After sweeping all before him in 2015 – both in terms of individual accolades and in every team he played for – North Queensland Toyota Cowboys co-captain Johnathan Thurston entered 2016 on a high and keen to lead his team to further success.
He didn’t have to wait long for more spoils to come, piloting the Cowboys to their inaugural World Club Challenge title with a masterful display in the 38-4 routing of English Super League champs Leeds Rhinos at Headingley Stadium in February.
Having led the Cowboys to an NRL title four months prior, and also playing a leading hand in multiple successes for the Maroons and Kangaroos over the years, Thurston – who forwent playing in the 2016 All Stars match to best prepare for England – could now count a WCC title among his list of achievements.
The crowning glory on that cold English night was Thurston being awarded the Graham Murray Medal – named in honour of Thurston’s former Cowboys coach and Leeds mentor – for his man-of-the-match efforts.
Once the 2016 National Rugby League season began, Thurston again performed at a high level in his 12th season in Cowboys colours.
He played in 24 games, scoring two tries, kicking 96 goals and leading the competition in try assists with 25.
Missing the Round 12 and Round 18 matches due to State of Origin commitments, Thurston missed just one other club game in 2016, with a hamstring injury ruling him out of what was to be the team’s only loss at 1300SMILES Stadium for the year as the Melbourne Storm ground out a 16-8 win in Round 21.
Having already won the game’s highest individual honour – the Dally M Medal – four times, Thurston was again in the mix in 2016, and finished equal third in the count with 22 votes, the same number as good friend and Maroons teammate Cameron Smith and four adrift of joint winners, fellow Cowboy Jason Taumalolo and the Storm’s Cooper Cronk.
He was also a nominee for Halfback of the Year, Representative Player of the Year, the People’s Choice Award and Captain of the Year.
On the representative front, Thurston was chief playmaker in the Kangaroos’ 16-0 win over New Zealand in the May Test in Newcastle, and was also instrumental in Queensland going back-to-back in Origin, the Maroons clinching the series 2-1.
Turning 34 in 2017, Thurston will front up for the Kangaroos in the Four Nations tournament in England during October and November, before returning to North Queensland in January 2017 to start preparations for the final year of his current Cowboys contract.
He has already publicly stated his desire to continue playing beyond 2017, with sights set on representing the Kangaroos in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, to be held in Australia and New Zealand.
Goals: 96 (from 114 attempts)
Try assists: 25
Line break assists: 24