Building a champion – Bulldogs

Johnathan Thurston will forever be remembered as a Cowboy – a glittering 14-year-career in North Queensland ensures that.

Before the Cowboys lured JT north, the cheeky youngster from Brisbane's south had already forged himself a reputation as one of the brightest talents in rugby league courtesy of a three-season stint with the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.

Thurston made his NRL debut in Round 13 of the 2002 season in a 38-24 Bulldogs win over the Panthers.

JT took just three games in the top grade to emerge as a match-winner.

Despite starting from the bench, the then 19-year-old Thurston scored a brilliant double in Round 21 to snatch victory from the team he would join three seasons later – the North Queensland Cowboys.

He didn't know it at the time, but his performance on that Saturday night in Townsville would change his life forever.

Cowboys football manager Peter Parr and head coach Graham Murray were astounded by Thurston's performance that evening and when he came off-contract at the end of the 2004 season they wasted no time inking his signature on a Cowboys contract.

Thurston played seven matches in his debut season and a further 15 in 2003.

He struggled to nail down a place in Steve Folkes's powerhouse Bulldogs side in 2004, but some impressive performances in reserve grade coupled with late-season injuries to a number of top-line players saw Thurston called up for a semi-final showdown with Melbourne.

As would become a common theme throughout his career, Thurston shone bright on the big stage, scoring a double in a resounding 43-13 Bulldogs win.

An injury to inspirational skipper Steve Price saw Folkes call up Thurston as a late replacement two weeks later for the blockbuster grand final showdown with the Roosters.

The Bulldogs won the match 16-13, but JT's most memorable moment came after the game.

The knockabout 21-year-old selflessly gave his premiership ring to Price in a moment which would go down in grand final folklore.

The Bulldogs premiership would be his last match for the club. He moved to North Queensland the next season and the rest is history.