Roosters label Thurston a modern-day Beetson
THERE is no doubt the Roosters wanted to beat Johnathan Thurston and his Cowboys on Saturday night.
But once the 26-20 result was put to bed, there was nothing but admiration and respect as skipper Boyd Cordner presented the retiring Cowboys legend with the match ball, and the team formed a guard of honour as he walked off Allianz Stadium for the final time.
A touching tradition has developed each time a team plays Thurston for the final time this season - the club presents him with a token of their respect, and he graciously accepts as the humble champion he is.
But this time, the tributes flowed into the press conference, with Roosters coach Trent Robinson holding the floor.
In some of the highest praise imaginable, Robinson likens the Australia, Queensland and Cowboys legend to a modern-day Arthur Beetson, the Roosters hero who became the first indigenous captain of an Australian team in any sport.
He said it's the reason the Roosters paused to acknowledge Thurston in such a significant way.
"It's hard, you're in week-to-week footy, you're focused on what you need to do to improve each week and then you have a guy that comes along, once in a generation, and you're about to play your last game against him," Robinson said.
"We really wanted to honour him as a person, we wanted to beat him tonight in the game, but we wanted to honour his legacy that he left.
"We were fortunate enough to have a guy called Artie Beetson at our club who left such a big impact on the game and our club and Australia when it came to the first indigenous captain, and JT has left a similar legacy to Artie Beetson and that's I think the biggest wrap I could give him. We didn't want to let that pass."
Cordner went on to explain that in his first tour with the Kangaroos as a 21-year-old, it was Thurston who reached out and made him feel comfortable - and they've been great friends ever since.
"It's such a privilege and an honour to play against him and with him as well.
"I remember when I was 21 years old I got my first Kangaroos jumper to go over to England and play in the World Cup there. I was pretty shy kid and a bit starstruck and he was probably the first bloke who came up and made me feel welcome and went out of his way.
"I'm so glad to be able to call him a mate now.
"I'm going to miss those times, going into camp with him and being able to play outside him. He made me a better player.
"Not many players have as much of an impact as he does on the community, and not only the rugby league community, the indigenous community and people who don't even watch rugby league know who he is. It takes a special kind of person to have that impact on a country."