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Johnathan Thurston should show loyalty, commit NRL career to North Queensland Cowboys

Johnathan Thurston
Big decision ... will Johnathan Thurston be loyal to North Queensland? Source: Grant Trouville / AAP
They say loyalty is a sentiment now dead in professional sport.

Johnathan Thurston has the opportunity to prove otherwise in the coming weeks by inking one final deal with North Queensland to finish his glittering NRL career in the tropics.
In an age where contracts can be broken overnight and players are at the mercy of clubs' recruiting whims, Thurston has every right to test his worth as his manager formulates a deal that will set him up for life after football.
Like scores of blue-collar men in rugby league, many of whom cut through socioeconomic disadvantages to earn money they never dreamed of in the NRL, Thurston has no real qualifications beyond his footballing genius.
During last year's NRL finals series, he admitted having no idea what he would do with his life when his NRL journey comes to a halt. He joked he once worked in a butcher shop.
Carving up opponents in the NRL is one thing. The sight of Thurston carving up a rump steak in butcher stripes would be quite another.

The Queensland Origin star wants a secure future beyond football. This is the deal that can provide it. Quite simply, he deserves every cent he can get. The challenge for the Cowboys is tabling a multi-faceted package that both rewards Thurston financially and caters for his post-football needs.

But if Thurston is fair dinkum, he will stay at the Cowboys. Financially, it may not be the most lucrative decision, especially in the face of a purported $3 million-plus bid from Penrith but, morally, it is the right thing to do given the times North Queensland have stood by Thurston through some of his darkest days in the sport.
Like a jilted lover left stranded at the wedding altar, the Cowboys would have every reason to be broken-hearted if Thurston ended their relationship with the ultimate reward, an NRL premiership, tantalisingly within reach.
For all his magnificence on the field, Thurston would be the first to admit he has not always been a model citizen off it. In his formative years in Townsville, it is no secret Thurston, then aged 22, was seduced by the good times, bright lights and off-field temptations that befall any young male adult.

Throw in bucketloads of cash and it could have been a recipe for disaster. On more than one occasion, the Cowboys, under the NRL's terms of employment, have had grounds to sack Thurston.
There was the time, in January 2008, when Thurston was charged with public drunkenness after being arrested outside his Townsville apartment semi-naked following Australia Day festivities.
Two years later, he faced the ignominy of time in the Brisbane watchhouse after being arrested for public nuisance following an alcohol-related incident in Brisbane's CBD.
To his credit, Thurston copped his medicine, refused to apportion blame and looked within to cultivate his status as one of the code's leading Indigenous ambassadors.
He spends countless hours putting back into local communities in North Queensland. He now appreciates his gravitas in the code and the impact he can have on people less fortunate.
The cynic would suggest the Cowboys only stuck by Thurston because his on-field importance outweighs his off-field transgressions.
But it is doubtful whether Thurston would have undergone such personal growth without the help of influential figures in North Queensland who identified him as a potential captain that could blossom as an individual if he smoothed out the rough edges.
On the field, Thurston must tick one final box at the Cowboys. For all his success at Origin level, piloting the Maroons to seven consecutive Origin titles, the reality is Thurston has yet to bring a maiden NRL trophy to Townsville since joining the club in 2005.
Obviously, it is a task Thurston cannot achieve alone but history shows the code's greatest playmakers are central figures in the pursuit of premiership glory.
Thurston's former Origin and Test halves partner, Darren Lockyer, led Brisbane to the title in 2006. His current Queensland and Australian partner-in-crime, Cooper Cronk, masterminded Melbourne's premiership win last season.
Former Maroons half Scott Prince won the Clive Churchill Medal in the Wests Tigers' fairytale crown of 2005, ironically outpointing Thurston in the grand final. His former Test coach Ricky Stuart swept Canberra to three titles in 1989, 1990 and 1994.
Ultimately, Penrith's millions may be too good to refuse. Money versus morality. Opportunity versus loyalty. For Thurston, the choice, as gut-wrenching as it seems, should be simple.

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