When JT became king of clutch moments

Johnathan Thurston will forever be known as the king of the clutch moments and it is a crown he has worn since July 5 of 2006.

It was a day when his former Maroons and Cowboys teammate Brent Tate says he made a statement that has defined who he is and what he will forever be remembered for as a footballer.

As the 35-year-old Cowboys talisman prepares to play the last NRL game of his career on the Gold Coast, NRL.com has gone back to a magic moment that changed rugby league history, shaped careers and announced a once-in-a-generation player had arrived on the scene.

With the benefit of hindsight, what occurred in Melbourne 12 years ago set the scene for what was to follow.

Queensland trailed 14-4 in the 71st minute of the State of Origin decider and the representative careers of Steve Price, Darren Lockyer and Petero Civoniceva had nine minutes left on the clock.

Brent Tate evades Steven Menzies to score in 2006.
Brent Tate evades Steven Menzies to score in 2006. ©NRL Photos

It was then that, on the 20-metre line, Thurston wrong-footed Luke O'Donnell, galloped away and threw a perfect left to right pass onto the chest of a flying Tate to score.

The Maroons won the game, and the next eight series, and Thurston has since gone on to be the man to step up in the pivotal moments when the biggest games are on the line.

"From that moment onward you always expected JT to come up with the big plays that count, and he did," Tate told NRL.com.

"It set the scene for the clutch moments that were to come and all the big moments he’s had his fingerprints all over."

Think his golden-point field goal to win the Cowboys the 2015 grand final. Think his show and go, and pinpoint pass to Billy Slater to win game three of the 2008 Origin series. Think Thurston's dummy, run and pass for Darren Lockyer to win the 2006 Tri-Series in extra time. 

Thurston owns moments, and the one he owned in 2006 was a moment like few others.

"It was the perfect storm … the biggest moment in Origin history and he comes up with that play that he did," Tate said.

"It was just the enormity of that series.

“Some of our greatest legends – Locky, Pricey, Petero – were told they were never going to play Origin again if we lost.

“At the start of the year there was talk, and Mal [Meninga] had mentioned it as well, of Origin being dead because of NSW’s dominance.

"I was talking about it with someone the other day and how not many players in the game could do what Johnno did at the death. He threw me a 20-metre cut-out pass, left to right, at full pace. I was running at full pace, and it was inch perfect … centimetre perfect. It needed to be or I get tackled or I've got to check myself to catch the ball."

Tate, who now works for the Cowboys, said the try changed his career as well.

“We all have moments in Origin where we feel that we belong in that arena. I’m sure that is the moment where JT felt he belonged and could dominate on that stage," Tate said.

"For me personally that was the moment I felt I belonged too."

It would be tempting to imagine that the king of the clutch moment was born not made, but that is a romantic notion.

As a 12-year-old Thurston relentlessly practised his kicking after dark at the Souths Sunnybank home ground with only the dim glow of the clubhouse to light his path.

As a 35-year-old in 2018 nothing much has changed, as Tate explained.

"It was five weeks ago, we’d been beaten and JT had missed a couple of tackles and the opposition had scored down his edge. His kicking game was also off," Tate recalled.

"It was his day off and I saw him out the back on the training field practising his kicking and his movements in defence. I just thought to myself ‘you’ve got five games to go in your career. Why bother?’. But that is just who he is."

The sun will set on a wonderful playing career on Saturday night but the legacy of JT will live on and on. Tate was emphatic when asked how Thurston will be remembered in North Queensland into the future.

"As a god, really,” Tate responded.

"He is going to remembered and revered and talked about in our hallways forever. Players come and go and players will be forgotten, but he won’t be."