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Thurston a driving force for change

By Tony Webeck, Chief Queensland Correspondent‌‌, ‌‌‌NRL.com

2018 Queensland Australian of the Year Awards - Picture: RDW Photography
2018 Queensland Australian of the Year Awards - Picture: RDW Photography

Gold Coast Titans captain Ryan James believes Johnathan Thurston deserves to be honoured as the 2018 Australian of the Year and has vowed to carry forward his legacy when the Cowboys great retires.

JT wins Qld Australian of the Year

Thurston was on Wednesday night recognised as Queensland's Australian of the Year not only for his deeds on the rugby league field but perhaps more importantly his extensive community endeavours where he champions the importance of healthy living and education, particularly among Indigenous people.

Whether giving his trademark headgear to a young fan in the crowd – often one supporting the opposition team – or simply handing the kicking tee back to the ball-boy after each shot at goal, Thurston has conducted himself in such a manner that has shaped the behaviour of other players.

If Thurston was to be announced as Australian of the Year in January he would become the first rugby league player to receive the honour and just the second sportsperson since Steve Waugh in 2004.

James first spent time in Thurston's company when he was a 19-year-old NRL rookie selected in the 2011 Indigenous All Stars team captained by the champion Queensland half and says the example he has set is one all Australians can appreciate.

"It's not surprising he was named Queensland Australian of the Year and I wouldn't be surprised if he was named Australian of the Year," James told NRL.com.

"Just his impact, not only on Queensland but all of Australia, everyone just loves him.

"He's a great player, probably going to be an Immortal and is just a great person to be around.

"He does everything to try and make everyone happy and then on the footy field to compete and win games."

Thurston has been a driving force not only of the All Stars concept that was initially the brainchild of Preston Campbell but also the "acknowledgement of country" that the Kangaroos performed prior to their opening World Cup clash with England.

He holds a position in the game few in history can match and as a proud Bundjalung man who has been active in the Gold Coast community since coming into first grade, James says it is a legacy he wants to continue.

"Obviously Preston Campbell laid a great platform to get [the All Stars] out there and 'JT' has taken it on. I'd love to be able to take on his legacy as well," James said.

"I was young [in 2011] and a lot of the boys back then didn't know a lot about their culture. A handful of boys from that first camp went back and did some research and ever since then he's been the pioneer of leading that next stage.

"I've still got a little bit of time left in the game and obviously his time is a little bit shorter so any time I can spend around him and learn off him is great.

"To see what he does and the community that he reaches is second to none.

"You've just got to make sure you're careful with everything you do. He's always well-mannered and making sure he's doing everything right when anyone could be watching.

"You'll see in the sheds that he'll clean up when no one's watching. He doesn't seek praise he just does things because he thinks they're right."

Speaking after receiving his award on Wednesday night, Thurston said he was "humbled" to have been bestowed such an honour.

"I'm obviously in a privileged position playing rugby league and I understand the responsibilities that come with that," he said.

"There's a lot of amazing people in this room doing wonderful things and amazing things for Queensland.

"I'm so very humbled and I can't stop shaking."

First published on NRL.com.