The veteran Cowboy’s displays suggest the greater group think that he has ‘gone one year too long’ is off the mark
After Jack Nicklaus finished tied for 33rd in the US Masters of 1980, pundits speculated that the great man’s time in the sun was over. He’d just turned 40. He was a famous multi-millionaire without sufficient “hunger”. A new breed of big-hitting buccaneers led by Greg Norman and that year’s Masters champion, Seve Ballesteros, was taking over. The scribes rubbed their goat-beards and scratched their sideburns, and typed these missives into their Olivetti Lettera 32 portable typewriters. And then they sat back and learned that they didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.
Within three months Nicklaus had won the US Open and US PGA, and run fourth in the Open Championship at Muirfield. In 1981 he was runner-up at Augusta and in 1986 landed his 18th major championship – and sixth green jacket – when he fired 65 on the final day to nudge out our Greg (again). He was 46 years old. And no-one questioned Big Jack ever again.
Step forward the champion of rugby league, Johnathan Thurston, who since 2004 has been bopping about in the NRL, scheming and planning and playing, and winning everything there is. The man is a marvel. Yet after a six-month lay-off and understated start to 2018, many in the modern age of collective punditry (for in the social media age, we are all pundits) have gone with the greater group think and wondered if Thurston has “gone one year too long”.
And they didn’t know what you were talking about, either. On Saturday night in Townsville Thurston torched brave though out-gunned Gold Coast Titans with an all-round feat of footy and generalship that was just … him. It’s his game. It’s just what he does.
In the 10th minute Michael Morgan dished to Thurston. The champion held the ball in two hands, drifted in and made defenders come to him and to his henchman, Gavin Cooper, who ran a convincing decoy line. It forced Kevin Proctor to choose – the runners out wide or the hard man coming at him. He chose Cooper and watched Thurston hit Lachlan Coote who hit Justin O’Neill short, and the centre scorched away for what would have been a try in any other era than our video ref one.
In the 12th minute, Thurston took a pass from Matt Scott and quickly found Jason Taumalolo who over-ran the pass. If Thurston had timed the run better, he would have been away, the great fullback terrifier of our time, but the pair would get it right in good time.
Thurston’s combination with his No 9, Jake Granville, was seamless. Both men know how the other moves. Thurston sort of drifts to the advantage line, at his own pace, and Granville finds him with sympathetic ball. Neither player would think too much about it, so often have they done it.
Before half-time Thurston set his backline and called a play. He took a ball going forward from Granville and immediately shifted to Scott who shifted to Coen Hess who turned and found John Asiata. Asiata found the flying Ben Hampton who split the defence for a try. It seemed the Cowboys’ season turned a corner right there. It was as if they said to each other, “Hang on – we’re actually really good. Let’s play like it.” A super try resulted, driven by their champion who saw it, called it, drove it and set it free. It was one of many try assist assists.
With 20 minutes to go Thurston did his little drift thing open side, took the defence with him, found Taumalolo on the inside, flying, stepping, and scorching away under the posts. Soon after Thurston ran again open-side, stepped and darted, nearly got through. It left the Titans stretched on their left. Hess crashed over, the Ivan Drago of our time.
Hess was good, as was Taumalolo. Cooper ran hard, convincing lines. Ethan Lowe competed at every juncture. But it was their champion who stood out. It was his show. He took on heavy D, body on the line stuff. He cajoled his people behind the line. He was there to sweep up the mess, the bouncing ball. There was a bootlace tackle. He’s just a footballer. He’s just out there, on auto-pilot, doing this thing he’s been so good at since he was seven years old. You’d sooner write off Jack Nicklaus.