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THURSTON: Superstar on field, just Daddy at home

Johnathan Thurston pictured with daughter Frankie. Thurston is an ambassador for the 2016 Philips Community Sports Dad of the Year Award.

THURSTON: Superstar on field, just Daddy at home

YOU know the name. You instantly recognise the headgear and his curling conversion attempts have baffled the brightest boffins for a decade.

But behind National Rugby League premiership and 10-time State of Origin series winner Johnathan Thurston, the man who led the North Queensland Cowboys to their maiden title last year, are three people who serve as a daily reminder that rugby league is just a game.

Three years ago he and wife Samantha Lynch welcomed first child Frankie into the world, and last year Charlie was born.

While the pair are still far too young to think about following dad's footsteps into sport, Frankie, 3, and Charlie, 1, have changed the 33-year-old more than he could imagine.

"Before kids, all you're worried about is performance and preparation and things like that. Now some of the things you used to worry about, you don't think for a second now with kids," he said.

"You can have a bad day at training or play terribly but your kids don't understand that and don't see that. You're still daddy and that's what's important."

His wife and two girls serve as Thurston's inspirations.

 

Cowboys Johnathan Thurston and his 35 month old daughter Frankie after his 250th game with Cowboys , round 11 NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Brisbane Broncos at 1300 Smiles Stadium in Townsville, Friday, 20th May, 2016. (AAP Image/Michael Chambers)
Cowboys Johnathan Thurston and his 35 month old daughter Frankie after his 250th game with Cowboys , round 11 NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Brisbane Broncos at 1300 Smiles Stadium in Townsville, Friday, 20th May, 2016. (AAP Image/Michael Chambers) MICHAEL CHAMBERS

They go some way to motivating the 33-year-old "JT", who played his 36th consecutive State of Origin for Queensland on Wednesday night. But it's the time together away from the field, the cameras and media that provides Thurston the best release from the day-to-day pressure of being arguably the greatest footballer to lace up his boots in the modern era.

"When you get home from a game and you've got a dirty nappy to change it brings you back to earth that's for sure," he said, followed by his trademark laugh.

Fatherhood has changed Thurston, and the future Immortal has loved every second.

"I'd like to think I've become a bit more mature since before kids but my wife might say otherwise," he said, again with the laugh.

"It does change you, that's for sure. For myself, being in the public eye you're always mindful of your actions. When they were really little, first born, that part of the journey I really enjoyed. I can't say there's one part I enjoy more than the other I just love it."

Thurston comes from a large, sporting family.

His dad, Graham, played rugby league in local competitions, while his mum, Deborah, is one of 13 - nine of whom are brothers.

When Thurston was four years old he earned $1 per game as a ball boy at his dad's games, and some of his best memories growing up were the sport-fuelled family gatherings.

"We were always playing sport, whether it be league or cricket. All my uncles played touch and they'd put their own teams into touch carnivals around Brissy and things like that," he said.

"They're good memories to have."

Frankie and Charlie may follow dad's footsteps in that aspect - Thurston believes their introduction will be similar to his - but there will be no pressure on the pair to get into sport.

Their future in sport is not a priority for Thurston; spending quality time and making the most of every minute together is - albeit at the cost of his handicap.

Where a younger JT may have spent spare time at a golf course, Thurston now prefers to take them out on a bike for ice cream at Townsville's Strand and even brings them to team breakfasts.

"I make spending time with my girls a priority; whenever I am not at training or travelling away with the team, I am with them," he said.

"My father had a big influence on me all through my years as a kid and still is a big influence to me to this day. They're too young to understand at the moment but we'll see what sports they want to play as they get a bit older. We'll just guide them and support them in whatever they want to do."

While fatherhood has been a treat for Thurston so far, the evolution of technology has the potential to make things difficult in the future.

Professional sportspeople have never been more accessible and while that's an enormous benefit for fans and can be used for good things, the inevitable troll is certain to surface in this age dominated by social media.

 

 

Johnathan Thurston pictured with daughter Frankie. Thurston is an ambassador for the 2016 Philips Community Sports Dad of the Year Award.
Johnathan Thurston pictured with daughter Frankie. Thurston is an ambassador for the 2016 Philips Community Sports Dad of the Year Award. contributed

 

Brisbane Broncos prop and Queensland teammate Josh McGuire earned the ire of rival fans after the Maroons' State of Origin-sealing Game II win. He tweeted "winners have parties, losers have meetings" in an obvious shot at the Blues, which was hammered by hundreds of users and still cops heat on a weekly basis.

Every professional athlete on social media receives the unfiltered messages and the anonymity the internet allows has made it worse.

As someone with one of, if not, the highest profiles, Thurston may one day have to not only protect his children from prying eyes, but also handle situations where they may read hurtful comments about their dad online.

"That's just the way the world is now with technology. I can't control what people's opinions are, everyone's entitled to them. I'm sure there's stuff out there people don't want to read or see but that's the type of world we live in these days," he said.

It is not all bad news however - those same sportspeople have found a way to use technology, and their profile, for good.

In a post-match interview after Origin I, in which Queensland withstood the Blues' barrage to win 6-4 and set up their 10th series win in 10 years, Thurston used the opportunity to send a message to children in Aurukun.

The community, located on Cape York's west coast, had endured weeks of unrest, which included fights in the streets and attacks on the school principal by students.

Thurston, moments after one of his most taxing efforts, took the opportunity to address the students.

"I just want to say a quick hello to the Aurukun State School," he said to the camera.

"There's obviously been a lot of trouble up there, so to all the students there, I just want you to believe in yourselves and keep turning up to school."

Reflecting on that moment, Thurston said he and fellow sports stars were in a privileged position to change the world for the next generation.

"Sport has the power to change social issues," he said.

"We're in a unique and privileged position. I'm not the only one that does it but there's a number of players doing great things in different communities. (The NRL has the) Ken Stephen Award that recognises a player from a club that does outstanding things in the community and there's plenty of players who are helping with social change."

Find out how to nominate your dad, or a dad you know for the Philips Community Sport Dad of the Year Award here