They enjoyed sustained record-breaking success alongside each other at state and national level so it's fitting Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith have been recognised together in the 2019 Queen's Birthday Honours list.
The two Kangaroos and Maroons greats and Australian Rugby League Commissioner, Dr Gary Weiss, were honoured when the full list of recipients was made public overnight, drawing praise from across the sport.
Smith said he was humbled by the honour.
"It's been a wonderful privilege to play for Australia, Queensland and Melbourne Storm for so many years and to be part of such a great team sport as rugby league," Smith said.
"You don't get to enjoy the success I've had without being surrounded by great players, coaches and training staff. I owe them so much."
Thurston said the honour was unexpected. "[It's] certainly a massive honour and one I'm extremely humbled by," he said.
"Rugby league has a huge impact on the community and over time I realised I could also have an impact personally as well.
"When you're a kid you dream about playing for Queensland and Australia and it wasn't until I achieved those dreams I realised the difference I could make on the community with my standing in the game."
ARL Commission chairman, Peter Beattie said it was well-deserved recognition for two of the most outstanding rugby league players of all time.
"This is well-deserved recognition Cameron, Johnathan and Gary," Beattie said.
"All three have done so much for the game of rugby league and for many communities throughout Australia, possessing leadership qualities that have had a profound impact on many.
"I congratulate them on being named in this years’ Honours list."
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg said was proud of the trio's achievements.
"Cameron, Johnathan and Gary have been wonderful ambassadors for rugby league and there’s no doubt that our game is better off thanks to their significant contributions,” Greenberg said.
"When it comes to Cameron and Johnathan, their individual on-field accolades may never be eclipsed and their recognition today as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours List adds to a combined list of achievements that are as impressive as they are deserved.
"It’s only fitting that two mates that began their rugby league journeys together more than 25 years ago, have today been awarded one of the highest honours in Australia."
Storm CEO Dave Donaghy also spoke highly of Smith's contribution to the sport.
"Cameron's on-field achievements are well documented, but outside of the playing field, hiscontribution to, and influence on, the sport of rugby league extends further than the statistics," Donaghy said.
"Cameron's character and leadership qualities are exemplified by his commitment to the Melbourne Storm as a one-club player and his contribution to growing the game in Victoria will long be remembered.
[It's] certainly a massive honour and one I'm extremely humbled by.Johnathan Thurston
"He has contributed countless hours at community events and appearances at junior rugby league clubs to inspire the next generation of rugby league players in a state without historical connections to the game.
"Not only is he the NRL games record holder and likely to be the first – and perhaps only – player to ever reach the 400 game milestone in 2019, has the most premiership goals, most wins, most games as captain and has achieved a long list of other personal and club highlights and awards that reflect his outstanding career.
"The list of rugby league identities to be honoured with an OAM is quite short and the list of players to be recognised in this way while still playing is even shorter, highlighting just how special Cameron's record is."
Cowboys CEO Jeff Reibel said Thurston had "forged a legacy, both as a player and as a role model, that I believe is unmatched in rugby league".
"We are thrilled he has been recognised for his contributions both on and off the field, as you can not tell the story of the man that is JT without recounting his football career as well as his unwavering commitment to his people and the community.
"It is an absolute honour for the Cowboys to continue working with JT post his football career, especially through his role as an ambassador of NRL Cowboys House, which is something he is extremely passionate about."
Former St George Illawarra Dragons, NSWRL and NRL chairman Warren Lockwood has also been recognised as a Member of the Order of the Australia.
He was recognised for his significant service to rugby league as an administrator, and to the community.
"It has been my honour and privilege to have played a role in the delivery of health services for the benefit of the St George community and to also have had the opportunities to play a key role in the administration of rugby league across all levels of the game," he said.
"I am very grateful to receive this recognition. It is very humbling and whilst it is a personal award, it is something that I believe belongs to all my family – my wife Jan and children Gary and Sandra – whose support enabled me to have these opportunities."
Lockwood played a significant role in the delivery of health services for the benefit of the St George Community at both St George Public and Hurstville Community Hospitals for over three decades.