ORIGIN JOY: Johnathan Thurston (centre) celebrates following State of Origin Game 3 between the Queensland Maroons and NSW Blues.
ORIGIN JOY: Johnathan Thurston (centre) celebrates following State of Origin Game 3 between the Queensland Maroons and NSW Blues. DAVE HUNT

Thurston always the beating heart of Maroons spirit

IF anyone had earned a self-indulgent Origin farewell it was Johnathan Thurston.

If not for the Queensland maestro's extraordinary effort to will the Maroons home with a crook shoulder in game two the series would have ended early.

He kept it alive for his teammates and his state, if not for himself, and so we arrived at a climax befitting a champion and were treated with the pre-game pomp that goes with it.

If that was appreciated by Thurston, it also likely would have made him uncomfortable.

For all his achievements, the Immortal-in-waiting has always preferred to let his football do the talking and leave the rest for others.

So it was no surprise that after the Maroons swept to victory in incredible style and Thurston joined Cameron Smith on the podium to lift the trophy that the stories started flowing about the superstar's role in a camp that could have easily been lost to emotion.

The significance of Thurston's Suncorp farewell was on the minds of all of his teammates as they went through their preparation.

It was addressed more than once by the senior players but Thurston wanted none of it.

Instead, he was keen to leave the emotion aside and play a more practical role, a role that shouldn't be discounted as pivotal to Queensland's success on the night.

With Thurston and Darius Boyd missing, two enormous holes had to be filled on the left edge, a potential weakness that the Blues planned to exploit by running their attack down that side.

Cameron Munster and Michael Morgan are sensational in attack, but having a debutant and a first-time starter playing in an unfamiliar role for a decider was anything but ideal for the side's defensive structure.

So, as "captain of the left edge", Thurston made it his mission to spend the week with the new faces ironing out kinks to ensure they took the field on Wednesday night full of confidence and with the best possible chance of repelling the Blues' raids.

"He's the captain of our left edge, so he did a lot of work with us during the week to help us out defensively," left winger and hat-trick hero Valentine Holmes said..

 

Origin debutant Cameron Munster takes control of the ball during Game Three.
Origin debutant Cameron Munster takes control of the ball during Game Three. DAN PELED

It's a point that is hammered home by Billy Slater, who said it was important for Thurston to take the emotion out of the occasion to give the Maroons the best chance of preparing mentally for a decider.

"To be honest, I don't think we played on a whole heap of emotion about Johnathan's last sort of series," Slater said.

"We did speak about it during the week and at the end of it Johnathan said it's great to play with emotion but he wanted us to play with the right emotion and doing it for Johnathan wasn't the right emotion.

"Our focus was on how well we defended and our performance and I thought we were on track to deliver that performance through the first two games."

While Thurston was adamant he wanted his teammates to put sentiment aside for the sake of performance, there were times during the week when he was unable to contain his own emotions.

Darius Boyd said tears had flowed both before and after the game and credited Thurston for putting Munster into a frame of mind to deliver his standout debut.

"He's an emotional character, he always sheds a tear, talking about rugby league and what it means to him and that's what makes JT so special, he's so passionate for the game and he's a legend of the game but he's just a fan," Boyd said.

"He's a loveable guy and everyone loves him here and he'll be sadly missed.

"I think him being around the guys this week would have really helped Cameron's confidence.

"If he could put his two cents in to help someone like Cameron prepare, then I'm sure that really helped his game."

News Corp Australia


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