Round 10 of the Telstra Premiership marks the NRL's Indigenous Round, a week taken to look at the social issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as well as players and staff associated with the NRL who go the extra mile to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
North Queensland Cowboys co-captain Johnathan Thurston is one of those players. One of the most accomplished footballers to ever lace on a boot, most people would struggle to name an award he has not won for his on-field performances, yet his off-field commitment is just as impressive. A fact that might be unbelievable to some, given Wikipedia has this disclaimer above his awards list: "Please note: Due to the vast amount of accolades won by Thurston, this is just a summary of his major award wins."
Thurston is an ARTIE (Achieving Results Through Indigenous Education) ambassador, encouraging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students to further their education. He is also the face of Synapse's campaign to prevent acquired brain injury in the Aboriginal community and is an ambassador for the Apunipima Cape York Health Council's anti-ice campaign. The co-captain of the Cowboys is also an ambassador for the newly-opened NRL Cowboys House, a boarding facility created to provide young Indigenous men from remote locations access to secondary education in Townsville.
The list of Thurston's involvement goes on, and he has frequently been recognised for his dedication to the community. He was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters from James Cook University and the Ken Stephen Medal by the NRL in recognition of his efforts on behalf of the North Queensland community. He has also been an ambassador for the Queensland Reconciliation Awards for the past five years at the request of the Queensland Premier.
"That's the power of sport really. It has the power for social change." - Johnathan Thurston
The truly remarkable aspect of Thurston's involvement in the community is that the programs themselves run in partnership with the Queensland Government, and Thurston's involvement with them is in-depth. He's spoken about results, influence, success and what these programs hope to achieve in the long run.
"The NRL is at the forefront of helping with this change, our club is a massive footprint here in North Queensland," Thurston said.
"We have the Try for Five program which has got 24 schools involved. That's going really well, we're getting our Indigenous students in that program to go to school every day so we've seen a massive rise in attendance for those students.
"I think all the schools that we've got have been double the state average of attendance [for] these students who are in our programs."