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‘Lockyer was my hero and I was just like a little love-sick puppy’

Dear Queenslanders,

As a kid, my earliest memory of State of Origin was probably the Wally Lewis try in 1989, but I don’t remember what game that was. Obviously then, the King and Mal were my favourite players.

I was a Canberra Raiders fan as a kid, so Mal was my hero, but Wally was the king of Origin, so that’s probably my first ever memory, because he was so huge in Origin, that’s probably my first memory of Origin.

When I first watched Origin live, it was 2001, it was Game III, and it was at QEII Stadium in Brissy, before they knocked Lang Park down and restarted.

I played the curtain raiser with a few of the boys, Dallas Johnson and I think Tatey. Smithy was in the side and a few others, so that was my first time watching it live.

I remember Petero coming off the line and just jamming some bloke off a tap and we were like three rows back and you could just hear the thud.

Johnathan Thurston FOG #148

It was that loud and at this stage, Locky was my hero then, my idol, and Locky just dominated that game and that’s when I just started thinking, ‘yep, this is what I want to do, this is what I want to do’, and yeah, that was my first ever live Origin.

When I first got the call that I had made the team, I remember it clear as day because we were up in Townsville and I had half a dozen of all my mates from Brissy and a couple from Toowoomba come up and watch the Cowboys play that weekend.

And then I got the phone call that I had made the side and yeah, all the boys just erupted at home and you know, it was a really good memory to have and to be able to share it with some of the boys that I grew up with as a child, to have them there with me when I got that phone call, was quite a memory to have.

There was a lot of jumping around and charwhooing around and carrying on, and the drinks just kept flowing then and I was glad they were there, as they played a big part in my life as well. I am still in contact with those boys today, so it was nice to be able to share that memory with them.

My first time with the Queensland team, it was extremely daunting.

Obviously, I knew a couple of the boys – it was Smithy mainly.

The Cowboys had a really good year that year, 2005, so there was a few of the boys in the team as well from the side, Billy Johnstone was the trainer, so I had some familiarity around me which helped, but again, Darren Lockyer was my hero and I was just like a little love-sick puppy, following him around and hanging off every word.

I remember, it might have been the second training session, and he said ‘mate, for me to do my job, I need you to do your job, that’s why you are in the team, I want you in this team, the selectors have picked you in this team, you and Smithy get the boys around the park and when I want the ball, you make sure I get it’ and I just went, ‘phoar!’

I just felt 10-foot tall and bulletproof and I was like, ‘wow, thanks dad!’

Donning maroon. Photo: NRL Images
Donning maroon. Photo: NRL Images

That was the leadership qualities of Locky, you know? He could get a real good read on the playing group and individuals.

The game was at Suncorp Stadium and all my family and friends were there and to be able to put that jersey on for the first time ... wow.

Running out, you would never hear a roar like it. I had never experienced a roar like it, you are coming down the tunnel, you can start to feel it and as soon as you start running out, it just hits you like a tonne of bricks.

It’s like a drug, it’s like an addiction. Once you are in it, you just don't want to let it go and yeah, it was quite a game too.

I can’t remember my first touch, but I do remember being part of a pretty big play.

We got out to a 19-0 lead at half-time and I remember walking off thinking ‘what’s this all cracked up to be? How easy was that?’

I was thinking that to myself and was ‘it’s not that hard’ and ... ahhh ... we come out after half-time and it’s maybe 20 minutes in and we are down 20-19.

And I never, ever, thought that way about Origin ever again.

We were down by a point with a couple minutes to go and I think Locky gets tackled with the ball and they sling it to me and I kick a field goal to send it into extra time and that was my first ever big play on the big stage and yeah, that was when I felt like I had made it.

I had done something for the team to get us there and then Matty Bowen scored the intercept and yeah, it was quite an initiation into the Origin arena.

It was a huge education. To be thinking what I did, and then, 20 minutes into the second half and you are down ... ‘how did this happen?’ and I never thought that again.

2006 was the defining series, it was my second series, we had lost 2005, we had lost the first game by a field goal and all the daggers came out to our leaders, you know, Locky copped a hiding, Pricey, Petero, they were the leaders of our team, you know?

And we had ex-players talking about it, which wasn’t great, but we had a really dominate performance Game II, and Game III they scored some really suspect tries – well, no tries – but they were awarded tries ... you know, it was in Melbourne and I remember, when they awarded that try to ‘em, there was about 15 to 20 minutes to go and I was going off my head, ‘this is a conspiracy, they don’t want us to win’ and Locky just said ‘oi! We have 20 minutes to go, we can do this’.

He got us into a huddle and just went ‘boys, alright, this is when Queenslanders stand up and I need you to stand up and get the job done here’ and yeah, Tatey ended up scoring and then after the next couple plays and he said ‘I am going to kick early, let’s go down there and force an error’, and he kicks early and Hodgson throws a pass and Locky picks it up, scores, we end up going bananas.

People don’t realise how much pressure was on us… we were staring down the barrel of becoming the first ever team to lose four consecutive series, which had never been done before, and we had heard of the conversations Mal had with Pricey, Petero and Locky that if we had lost that series, their Origin careers would be over.

And Mal said ‘my Origin coaching career will be over too’, because we would be the first ever team to lose four consecutive series, so yeah.

That was one of my favourite Origin memories and the 2010 series, those are probably my two favourite series to be a part of.

And my final ever series, 2017, missing the first game, coming back and kicking a goal and having Smithy call me up on stage, yep, it was a rollercoaster that’s for sure.

26 - Cam and JT lift the shield together

You know, I was quite emotional when doing the testing for my shoulder for Game I, I remember grabbing Kevie and Smithy and telling them that I am not fit enough to play Game I and I was quite emotional about it, but the team comes first.

And coming back into the team for the second game, I remember I was quite nervous about it, one-nil down and coming back into the side and kicking the goal from the sideline to send it into a third game.

It was a whole emotional experience ... getting my surgery done, my shoulder op and I didn’t want to be a distraction to the boys coming into camp, but Kevie said it would be alright and it was quite an emotional week for me and I am starting to tear up thinking about it.

But the boys, just, they were clinical that night and when Smithy called me up on stage to lift the trophy ... it was yeah, it was like – that’s my last ever series.

It was a rollercoaster, it was an emotional one, but what a memory to have.

Before the first game, I did all the tests and the doc and the physio were like ‘geez, that’s good, you look pretty good’ and then I was in my head thinking ‘is it right?’

And you know, they came back and seen me and said ‘we have read the tests wrong’ and I was like ‘you sure?’ and they were like, ‘we are positive we have read the tests wrong’ and I was ‘what does that mean for me?’ and they were ‘we can’t let you play’…. and I was like ‘well obviously, I want to play, but the team comes first, and I will take it on your advice that I am not fit enough to play’ and telling Smithy and Kevie was probably the hardest part.

I remember being in tears telling them that I wouldn’t be able to be a part of it, but it was the right decision at the time, but yeah, coming back Game II was just an emotional roller coaster, you know?

And I never expected that when Smithy called me up on stage.

I was standing there after Game III, ‘cause I was waiting for him to come down and the boys are going ‘get up there!’ and I was like ‘nah’, but they were ‘he’s just called you up on stage!’, but I couldn’t hear.

So, I went up on stage and I lifted that shield up beside him. He is one of my best mates, so it brings a smile to my face every time I think about it.

It was always fun being in Maroons camp, but I wasn’t really the prankster ... the biggest pest would have been Josh McGuire, Moose, he was a pest. And Gillo… he was always geeing up, everyone thinks he’s the nice guy. Smithy and Hodgo and even Shaun Berrigan in the early days, he was a little pest, he would wind the staff up and that was the thing, you could really rip into the staff.

Boxy would cop it and Mick, our bus driver, would cop it off the boys. There were a few boys who were relentless on the staff and that’s what built that team camaraderie, and they would give it as much as they got it too, you know, it’s about that team vibe and you just feel a part of it so it’s the best week of your life when you are in there.

People ask me about the record for most consecutive games.

I always prided myself in starting the year well when I played for the Cowboys ‘cause I always thought that put me in good stead for the Origin campaign, but when I broke the record of Gary Larson… he was playing in the middle, back row, phenomenal, 24 consecutive games.

It didn’t really occur to me how big of an accomplishment that was and it’s not until you look back now that you are finished ... to play 12 years pretty much straight, you just ... to be able to do that, you need to know your body well as well.

No better feeling than wearing maroon. Photo: NRL Images
No better feeling than wearing maroon. Photo: NRL Images

There were times when everybody was carrying little niggling injuries, but you know you can get through it, but 2017 Game I, my shoulder, you just know ... and that’s when you need to put the team first, and that was one of those games.

And when I broke the record for most points in Origin, I took that off Mal who was a hero of mine as a child.

Again, it’s quite an achievement to have, but that’s not why you play the game.

You play the game because of the team camaraderie and the friendships that you have built up and it’ll be broken. Someone else will come along… records are made to be broken, there’ll be someone that goes past it.

Queenslanders, thank you for your support during my time in maroon.

Kind regards,

Johnathan Thurston

FOG #148

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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