Queensland Maroons legend Johnathan Thurston is a passionate Queenslander, a passionate rugby league player and passionate defender of those in his circle.
Thurston is hurt by the criticism that has been levelled at this year’s squad and wants to set the record straight about the culture he is proud to be part of.
“The Queensland culture, to me, is a set of behaviours and standards that have been set by the players who have come before… in regards to our preparation during the week, it's always been light-hearted off the field, making sure you build relationships and friendships, so that when you do play on the Wednesday night, that you've got each other's back,” Thurston said.
“To have our culture questioned is having a crack at the players who have worn the jersey before us – Artie Beetson, Wally Lewis, Dick 'Tosser' Turner.
“We've had 10 players play 30 or more Origins, including Nate Myles, and we've had a player play 42 Origins in Cameron Smith. These players set the behaviours and standards for the next generation to follow… so for people to be questioning our culture, they're personally having a crack at those who have come before.”
Thurston said he understood why some criticism had come, but said at the end of the day, everyone was human; adding perspective was needed.
“A young bloke has made a dumb decision, and has put everything at risk, but as players, for Jai, we want to make sure that his mental health is right and make sure he gets through this,” Thurston said.
“When people are questioning our culture, they are questioning the behaviours and standards of some of the greatest the game has ever seen - players and people. And that’s not okay.”
Thurston said he was a proud Queenslander and every player who donned the jersey should be too.
“For myself, I feel very lucky and blessed to be part of the Queensland culture,” Thurston said.
“It’s special… if you’re lucky enough to be part of it, you know it’s about doing your duty for Queensland, pride in the jersey. There's been 219 players who have played in Maroons jersey and they've set the standards. It's our job now to pass that onto the next generation. You do that with your actions on and off the field.
“We've had some incredible leaders over the years who have played and set the foundations. Now every player who puts that jersey on has a duty to the Queensland jersey - that's on and off the field, to carry those high standards.
“Kids grow up wanting to play in the Maroons jersey and for me, there's two things I'm extremely proud of… that's my family and that's the Queensland jersey.”
Thurston said camps had always been fun and that was part of what made the bond between Queenslanders so great.
“I'm not saying to have fun, you need to drink. We play cricket, we play ping pong, we play cards… the team morale is always high, but when people are starting to question your culture, I think you need to fight for it and put them in their place, so to speak, because they don't live it,” Thurston said.
“The criticism hurts because I see how hard the players work, I see the sacrifices they make, I see how high the team morale is, I see how well the players, the staff get on, so yeah, when you're in it day-to-day and people start to question your culture, who have nothing to do with it, it hurts.
"But like I said, you need to lead with your actions and some of the actions we've had have not been to the standard set before us, so that's why it's happening.”
Thurston said at the end of the day, these players – these people (an important point to note) - were “here to win football games”.
“That's what we're here to do. There's always going to be outside noise, but at the end of the day, we are paid to play football,” Thurston said.
“But the players would play in the Maroons jersey for zero dollars. That's what it means to them. The opportunity to play in the Maroons jersey - there's nothing like it. I've played for the Kangaroos, the Cowboys, the Bulldogs, but this is a jersey that grabs you emotionally, mentally and you'll do everything in your power for it. We need to focus on winning this next football game.
“Origin is all about moments and you need to be at your best to capitalise on those moments, because when you don't, the game gets past you and that's what happened in the first two games.
“We haven't been able to capitalise on the opportunities we've been given, so it's all about Origin efforts that people talk about and that's the things that the fans in the stands don't see, but your team mates do. And the professional players know what those Origin efforts are and they celebrate those efforts.”
Passionate Thurston talks about Maroons culture
Thurston said moving forward, the behaviours and standards set by those who had donned the jersey before were the behaviours and standards he expected to see from everyone who wore the jersey.
“I am a proud Queenslander… it’s all about the people, it's understanding that when I was in that jersey, I knew who I was playing for... I knew when I was a kid, if Queensland won I would be going to school the happiest kid alive because I loved the Maroons. And when you're playing in that Maroons jersey, you know the effect you have on the state. That's why you do it,” Thurston said.
“There's a lot of history in the Maroons jersey obviously. A lot of people are aware of why it all started, so when you get a deeper understanding of that history, it's built on hatred for the other state.
“We put ourselves in this position we’re in, so we've had to cop it on the chin. We need to win a football game and that's what we're here to do. We certainly need to be better, making better decisions, but for people out there questioning the pride in the jersey, and our culture, when they don't know what that is, that hurts.
“We’re Queenslanders, we're players, but most importantly, we're people doing our best to do the best job on the field, and in life, that we can.”