ULTIMATE COMPETITOR: Cowboys maestro Johnathan Thurston competes on every play in every game... every year.
ULTIMATE COMPETITOR: Cowboys maestro Johnathan Thurston competes on every play in every game... every year. MICHAEL CHAMBERS

Walker hails Johnathan Thurston as the 'great competitor'

GREAT rugby league players are not always born.

Sure, they have natural talents that others don't but they also have an inner drive and a quest to be the best that manifests itself in actions.

I wrote an opinion piece yesterday about why Cowboys and Maroons maestro Johnathan Thurston has claims to being the greatest player of all time.

The QT's online poll say that 70 per cent of participants in the poll agree.

As we are an Ipswich paper I asked Jets co-coach and former NRL star Shane Walker, who played against Thurston and has watched his stellar career, what it is that stands out to him about JT the footballer.

"He is just the ultimate competitor isn't he? There is not a play in the game or a situation in the game that he doesn't compete to the nth degree on," Walker said.

"Thurston competes with every fibre in his body. There is no play that he gives up on, and that is why the Cowboys win footy games. There are a lot of guys that are faster, a lot of guys that are stronger and some you could argue that are more skilful, but no-one competes harder.

"When tries are being scored, in particular runaway tries, you won't see him 50m away jogging down the pitch getting ready to come into a huddle. He's the bloke chasing the try scorer down and making the last ditched tackle.

"That will be in any high pressure game, and in the non-descript games on a cold winter's night in Canberra or Penrith when they don't appear to mean as much.

"I played against him and the thing that also caught your eye, as with all the great players, was how much time he had on his hands and how crafty and clever he was."

When Thurston was a Souths Sunnybank junior his parents used to wait in the clubhouse while their son practised kicking goals and field goals on his own in the dark after training.

The only light he had to work with was the dim glow coming from inside the clubhouse itself.

Thurston told me after last year's grand final that those countless hours of fine tuning his craft were invaluable in his development.

His methods are unique. No-one hooks conversions with so much draw on them like Thurston. He does things his own way, not the way a stock-standard coach might recommend.

In the big games, Thurston will land a sideline conversion or a field goal under pressure and make it look like shelling peas. Walker has an interesting take on the benefits Thurston's hours of lonely practice as a youth have followed through to his professional career.

"Players that learn their craft and learn how to execute without boundaries of failure are the ones that can do it under pressure," Walker said.

"They are not bound by a set of rules and having someone over the top of them saying where their failure point is. Then in the heat of battle and in the pressure moments their thought process isn't about reinvesting on the negative or on the 'wrong'. It is about executing on the 'right'.

"He is one of those players who has played so much backyard footy and practised executing field goals at Souths Sunnybank under his own set of rules, that is why he is able to do it time and time again in games.

"He is certainly up there with the greatest players, without being disrespectful to any of the ones that have come before him."

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