A Cowboy named JT

In her own words – passionate North Queensland Toyota Cowboys member Kate Cornish shares her experience of farewelling Johnathan Thurston in his last NRL game. 

The countdown

Victory is always possible for the person who refuses to stop fighting – Napoleon Hill

It's happening, there is no stopping it now, the wheels of time are in motion.

We are well and truly in the countdown for JT's final game, the final battle he will face with his troops, the final time we will watch JT command the football field with his freakish brilliance.

We knew this day was coming, we know we should be prepared, but we aren't. I think that is simply because no amount of time with JT being a Cowboy, would ever be enough.

What we want is selfish, but surely, we cannot be blamed for it.

We have watched with delight as our scrawny little halfback defied all his critics to become the face of rugby league, become our most beloved captain and arguably the best player in the world.

We have cheered as we watched him reach the pinnacle of his sport, break records and set the bar so high that it may be impossible for someone else to reach.

On my way
On my way

Every accolade, every acknowledgment, will never be enough, but please, keep them coming, Cowboy fans love it. You see, we've always known JT's brilliance.

He is the stuff that legends are made of. Around pubs and clubs all over the country, the great man they talk about, that's our JT. The littlest halfback who would never give up. The most competitive player, the hardest worker, the one who can create magic of absolutely nothing.

The Cowboys faithful tell his story well, they know all the chapters.

They can recite the pages that are filled with the anguish of injury and on-field heartache. They can narrate the paragraphs that are filled with the glory, the success and absolute triumph.

They can walk you through the last 60 seconds of the 2015 NRL Grand Final with so much passion, you'd believe you were there.

The winning field goal, that is their favourite moment, they will take a big breath before their eyes light up as they tell you even though JT did not strike the ball perfectly, as that ball sailed through the uprights, there was never any doubt JT would win that game for the Cowboys and give the club its maiden premiership.

Everyone wants to share their JT story this week. There is a buzz amid the NRL world. 

Different media outlets are playing highlight packages, the best players and most respected voices in the game are shouting accolades of the highest order, and nothing makes us prouder as Cowboy supporters than to hear his name sung in praise.

I am on my flight to the Gold Coast as I write this. There is no way I would miss this game for the world.

To be honest, the game could have been in Botswana, it would not have mattered, I would be there.

I have a feeling I will be seeing a few other Cowboy fans on my journey.

With Mum & Dad on the big day
With Mum & Dad on the big day

The final stand

I do the very best I know how, the very best I can, and I mean to keep doing so until the end...
Abraham Lincoln

JT was at his scintillating best tonight and there was nothing that the Titans could do to stop him.

He set up tries, kicked conversions, made try-saving tackles and put hits on the big boys like he was a 20-year-old forward who was playing his first ever NRL game.

With his last game he literally just completed his highlight reel.

Cowboys fans streamed into the stadium one after the other, and Cbus was awash with Cowboys colours for as far as the eye could see. 

Titans fans were outnumbered and outsung by an incredible ratio.

There were so many Cowboy fans who had descended upon the stadium, you had to keep reminding yourself it was a not a home game in Townsville.

I think it is the first time in rugby league history that an away team has broken the record for attendance – there was no home crowd advantage for the Titans tonight.

The Titans started strong and were doing everything they could to ruin the evening. They had scored two quick tries and the Cowboys needed a spark. Enter JT.

Just when we thought our co-captain could not possibly show us anything we had not seen before, he lines up Ryan James and hits him with such force that he loses the ball.

It was sheer courage and determination – it was the spark that the Cowboys needed.

Nearly time
Nearly time

In true Cowboys style we had to win from behind, something we have just about written the rule book for, it goes something like this:

  1. Give the other team just enough false confidence that they think they are going to win.
  2. Once satisfied that all Cowboy fans have a heart rate that could jump start a car, score some tries to be 4 or 2 points behind.
  3. Score again to be in front with less than 10 minutes on the clock.
  4. Win the game in a contest so tight, it takes a few days for the heart rates of fans to return to normal.
  5. Repeat the following week.

It was fitting that Shaun Fensom scored a try in his last game, what a warrior that guy is.

Benny Hampton scored two beauties and Gideon, well when he took off, the ground was scorched behind him.

The most memorable and historic try of the night belonged to one Mr Gavin Cooper.

When he plucked the ball high in the air, off JT's boot he became the first forward in the game to score 9 tries from 9 games.

The script could not have been written more flawlessly than to have the last try assist JT would ever make, go to Gavin Cooper.

Over the last 8 years, we have lost count of how many 'Thurston to Cooper' tries we have witnessed, so it was a perfect way for their partnership to end. Death, taxes and Gavin Cooper scoring off a JT ball...

As we counted the clock down to the final whistle, the crowd got to their feet. They applauded and cheered and roared as one, anyone would have thought we had just won the Grand Final.

As JT addressed the crowd, it was the slight shake in his voice when he thanked his beautiful wife Sam that stood out to me. 

They are undoubtedly a solid team and have a strong partnership.

His words were few, but they spoke volumes of how much he appreciates her unwavering support and how he credits Sam with so much of what he has been able to achieve.

As JT did his final lap, Cowboy flags were waved, posters were held high and the cowbells rang loudly, for one last time, in honour of the greatest Cowboy that ever was.

On a side note, Frankie Thurston. Love that kid. Her lap of honour was just as good as her dad's!

One of many
One of many

The day after the night before

If you are brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello – Paulo Coehlo

After 17 seasons, 323 NRL games, 2886 points, 37 Origins, 39 Test matches, 4 Dally Ms, 3 Golden Boots and 2 Premierships, JT has given the fans every last piece of himself.

He has left nothing on the field, there is nothing more the NRL world can ask of him.

He leaves the game healthier than when he started playing, because he is the benchmark of what players should want to strive to be on the field and off it.

Players have such a wonderful capacity to evoke real change within communities – this is something JT knows, and he is not one to waste an opportunity.

He has grown into a man who has a heart the size of a lion, and I believe that post football he can make the world a better place.

More importantly, I believe him when he says that is exactly what he is going to do.

The world did not end last night when JT hung up his boots, we are all still here today, but from tomorrow onwards and for the rest of our lives, fans will relish recounting the amazing and incredible story of a Cowboy named JT.

Kate Cornish