The family tragedy that changed Thurston forever

Johnathan Thurston opened up old wounds in his autobiography that he thought he would never speak about, none more hurtful than the tragic death of his uncle Richard Saunders in 2008.

Speaking at the launch of the book at Suncorp Stadium on Tuesday, Thurston outlined how it was his determination to be "open and honest" about all the highs and lows in his life.

In the autobiography, Thurston reveals how he was on the Kangaroos team bus prior to the 2008 World Cup semi-final with Fiji when his wife Samantha called to tell him that his uncle Richard had been bashed to death by eight men in the tough Logan suburb of Woodridge "with a hammer, a fence paling, their fists and their feet".

Thurston writes about the pain of losing his dear uncle and also about how it changed him.

"My whole attitude to violence and community changed after that moment," Thurston wrote.

"I think I realised that a lot of people were really struggling out there and needed help. I work in disadvantaged communities as often as I can. I don't want to see another family left without a husband, a father, a brother, a son ... an uncle, because of a senseless act of violence."

Johnathan Thurston at his book launch.
Johnathan Thurston at his book launch. ©Supplied

When asked about the toughest times in his life at the book launch, Thurston reflected on how difficult it was to write about that family tragedy.

"I haven't spoken about the death of my uncle since it happened and that was a very emotional time for me, reliving those memories," Thurston said.

"I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy and we'd lost a family member  in horrific circumstances, so it was very hard to talk about it."

Thurston said he learned through that ordeal how strong and resilient he was in tough times.

"We played Fiji in the semi-final that week knowing how much it meant to my family, and I got man of the match in that game," he said.

His uncle would have wanted him to play and Thurston wrote how he "wanted to give my family a bright moment to light up a very dark time".

It was on receiving that fateful call from his wife that Thurston spoke firstly to his teammate and childhood hero Darren Lockyer. Lockyer hugged him tightly for the rest of the bus journey.

In the book, Thurston also reveals how as a youth he had wanted to play for the Broncos - where Lockyer was a star - but that the club had shown no interest.

 "Through those teenage years I always believe in myself I was better than the boys getting the Broncos tracksuits," Thurston said at the launch.

"When you are going to carnivals and seeing those with the boys with the Broncos tracksuits it is crushing but it puts a chip on your shoulder because it makes you more determined to get to where you want to go. While that part of my life was tough it made me more resilient and more determined to achieve my dream."

It is why Thurston always enjoyed beating the Broncos on any occasion, and he was quick to add "the 2015 grand final" was one of them.

Wayne Bennett recalled recently how he went to watch a teenaged Thurston at a carnival and wanted him at the club, but was warned off by others who had their doubts about the teenager. Thurston said he was unaware that Bennett had gone to watch him, but the outcome was not one that surprised him.

"Through those years that was pretty much what I had been told, not only from the Broncos, but from other clubs as well," he said.

My whole attitude to violence and community changed after that moment

Johnathan Thurston

"It was pretty crushing but it made me more determined ... to stick it up 'em."

In the book, Thurston details what he called the "contract circus" that started in 2012 when he was set to come off contract with the Cowboys in 2013.

He outlines the "secret" trip he made to Canterbury to meet with Des Hasler and the massive play made for him by Panthers supremo Phil Gould.

At the launch, he also revealed how he met with Brisbane official Andrew Gee and gave the Broncos serious consideration.

"I did have a meeting with the Broncos to come back to Brisbane. I obviously have a lot of family here and grew up at Sunnybank Hills and I love the city, but while going through all that process there was a burning desire to do something in Townsville," he said.

That decision reaped the ultimate reward in the 2015 premiership win, a game Thurston analyses and reflects on in fascinating depth in his tome.

It was fitting that his autobiography was launched at Suncorp Stadium, where Thurston created so many wonderful memories in a Maroons jersey in his stellar career.