Why Thurston nearly gave it all away
In an exclusive book extract, rugby league legend Johnathan Thurston reveals his early battles on his path to the top.
FAST-FORWARD TWO YEARS AND I'M being dragged out of the backseat of the family car. 'I'll just stay here,' I said. 'It's too hot. You go and I'll wait in the car.' The summer sun had scorched away the green and turned my local footy ground brown. The soft spring grass was now like hard compacted straw.
'Come on,' Mum said. 'Get out. Go and have a kick with the boys.'
I looked out the window and the ground was packed. From toddlers to teenagers, boys were running, passing and kicking. Footballs were flying.
'Na, you go,' I said to Mum. 'You take Shaney and I'll stay here.'
Mum shook her head. 'But you have to sign on,' she said.
If you don't register today you won't be able to play.'
I shrugged my shoulders and shut the door. I didn't care if I never played rugby league again. And it was all over a tracksuit.
'Hey, look at Dane,' one of the boys had said at a football carnival the year before. 'What's he wearing?'
I turned and looked towards a kid walking into the clubhouse, bag hanging from his right shoulder. His name was Dane Campbell. He was one of the kids in the team we were about to play.
'Is that Broncos gear?' another kid in my team asked.
It was. Dane was covered from head to toe in the maroon, yellow and white of the Brisbane Broncos. Wearing an oversized jacket made of that parachute-type material. He had oversized full-length pants to match. He was also wearing a Broncos polo and had a Broncos bag.
'Wow,' said one of the boys. 'He must be good.'
Not that good. I'm better than him.
'He must have been signed by the Broncos,' said someone else. 'He's on his way.'
I was 13 when I first saw a kid wearing a Brisbane Broncos tracksuit - and boy, did it piss me off!
Why has he got one? Where's my tracksuit? I'm better than him.
This Dane kid could play, in fact he would go on to play in the NRL for the Knights, but he was no better than me. The only thing he had that I didn't was size. He was a big unit and I was a skinny little thing.
Soon everyone seemed to have a Broncos tracksuit, well, everyone except me. There they all were, walking around in their shiny new gear, chests puffed out and looking a million bucks. And there I was, slumped in a corner wearing a dirty old Rip Curl jumper. The Broncos started handing out scholarships when I was 13. And by the time I was 15 every decent player I knew had a Broncos tracksuit in their wardrobe.
But not me.
Despite making every representative team I could, I had never even spoken to anyone connected with the Broncos. And boy, did it give me the shits. Yeah, I was pissed off. Proper pissed off. The Broncos were the team I wanted to play for. My love-hate affair with the Broncos began in 1988 when they were born. Until then Queensland didn't have their own team in the NSWRL - the best rugby league competition in Australia - and everyone in Brisbane was forced to support a side from either New South Wales or the ACT.
Everything changed in 1988 when the Brisbane Broncos were formed. Suddenly Queensland had its own side. And it seemed like everyone in Queensland except for me switched to support the Broncos. I loved Mal, Ricky and Loz so I kept on supporting Canberra. But it was difficult for me because Brisbane were a juggernaut. In 1993, just five years after they were formed, their average home crowd was 43,200.
That is the biggest average crowd in the history of rugby league. And it is no
wonder when they had a side that included Langer, Steve Renouf, Kevin Walters, Julian O'Neill, Glenn Lazarus, Trevor Gillmeister and a young Wendell Sailor to name a few. They went on to win their second premiership that year, beating St George 14-6. So even though I didn't support them, I wanted to play for them.
And that is why being brushed for a tracksuit hurt me to my core. I would have traded my entire collection of Air Jordans, my video games, and maybe even my little brother for one!
But the only side that showed any interest in me was the South Queensland Crushers. At some point I was invited to have a look at their set-up. I was impressed, but for whatever reason nothing ever came of it. I couldn't even get a look-in with Brisbane's second team. No one would be interested in me for another five years. Yep. No one.
Johnathan Thurston: The Autobiography, by Johnathan Thurston with James Phelps, is published by HarperCollins Australia and will be in all good bookstores and online from October 18.