James Cook University in Townsville has today awarded North Queensland rugby league legend and Cowboys’ co-captain Johnathan Thurston one of the University’s highest honours – an Honorary Doctor of Letters.

Thurston has been recognised for his outstanding service and exceptional contribution to the North Queensland community.

From a simple kind gesture, through to a career-long participation in community service programs, Thurston has dedicated himself to the service of the region’s communities.

He has been a champion for Indigenous communities and an inspiration to thousands nation-wide; he is a role model for Indigenous people, especially children, whom he encourages to finish high school, and pursue further education or find full-time work.

Thurston has also worked tirelessly to support a broad range of community programs including the Cowboys Learn Earn Legend! and Adopt-a-School programs.

He also supports many other community groups and charities, generously donating his time to help and inspire others.

James Cook University’s Chancellor, Lt. Gen. John Grey AC (Retired) said Thurston has had a tremendous, positive influence that goes far beyond the football field.

“He is a mentor to so many in North Queensland and beyond. The qualities he displays – humility, sportsmanship, leadership, mateship, and loyalty to his community – are widely respected. Johnathan Thurston is an inspiration to youth and the broader community.

“Aside from his exceptional sporting achievements, he has shown what can be achieved by working with communities to achieve a brighter future.” 

Thurston said he is extremely humbled by the honour: “It has been an amazing year for me personally and professionally, and I am really excited to be finishing the year with this honour.”

“I take pride in the work I do and the time I spend in the community. I am passionate about North Queensland and the North Queensland people. I believe that the way forward for Indigenous people is through education and I am committed to using my profile to assist that cause in any way possible.

“Thank you to James Cook University for recognising the work I do away from the football field.

“I have the utmost respect for every person completing further education, so congratulations to those graduating today.” 

Congratulations, JT!


JCU Chancellor John Grey, Johnathan Thurston, Samantha Thurston,
JCU Vice-Chancellor Sandra Harding