NRL 3 years ago

The Problem With Thurston

  • The Problem With Thurston

Last night, as the siren rang out across Canberra Stadium, Johnathon Thurston kicked a field goal to break the Raiders' hearts and steal a 21-20 win for the Cowboys. And on the surface, that is how many will summarise the game: a "legend" coming through at the last moment to win a game for his team.

But the match revealed more about Thurston than a lot of people will care to admit, for some of it was far from complimentary. It has been brewing for a long time, but yesterday's match delivered several proofs of this: Thurston thinks he is bigger than the game. And why should he not, when one looks at the treatment he is given by the referees?

Consider this: had any other player deliberately targeted and taken out the player in the air, surely they would have gone to the sin bin, or, at the very, very least, gone on report. Not Thurston. Twice during the match he took out a Raiders player in the air. Fortunately, neither Jack Wighton nor Jordan Rapana was hurt, but the Rapana incident especially could have been very, very ugly, as he was very high in the air when the contact was made. On neither occasion did Thurston even make an attempt to play at the ball.

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And yet Thurston never even got a talking to from the referees for either incident. The Wighton incident didn't even attract a penalty. The Rapana incident took place with two minutes left, and had Thurston been in the sin bin where he belonged, he would not have been there to kick the field goal.

There has been much talk in recent weeks about "protecting playmakers", especially after the kick. And I do not disagree that something must be done about it. But it must be done to protect all playmakers, not just the big name stars. Shannon Boyd hit Thurston late, and immediately a penalty was blown up and the referees made sure that the Cowboys were given the advantage from it. And yet, in the same match, Sam Williams was taken out after the kick on three separate occasions. On none of those occasions was a penalty blown. So what is it, NRL? Are you protecting the playmakers - or are you simply protecting the names?

Thurston likes to think he is some kind of victim. One of his complaints after the match - repeated more than three times in his initial Fox Sports interview - was that Sia Soliola was offside for the second charge-down. And, in retrospect and looking at the replays, Soliola was offside. But it did not sound particularly gracious coming from a man whose team had got the best of a 10-7 penalty count, and whose team had spent the majority of the second half of the match making a habit of standing inside the ten.

And last, Thurston's attitude towards the referees. He seems to have undue influence on their decisions, and he knows it. And one of those incidents was potentially game-changing. Late in the game, in a confusion of scramble, the referee ruled a Cowboys knock on, and a Raiders feed. The scrum was to be packed down in the Cowboys' half, and give the Raiders another attacking opportunity. As the scrum started to form, however, Thurston flew into the referee's face, and began demanding of the referee to review it, and change the call. Thurston himself had taken out Jack Wighton in the air on the very same play, so his hypocrisy was rampant, to say the least.

And when the referee did, the howls and boos filled Canberra Stadium. Not because the second call was wrong - the ball had touched Edrick Lee's hand - but because it had been changed. Because, only a few weeks before, in almost the exact same spot, Sam Kasiano had ripped the ball from Shannon Boyd's hands, in a blatant strip, which the referee had called a Raiders knock-on. Blake Austin and Jarrod Croker had pleaded with the referee to change the call - but even after looking up at the very obvious replays on the big screen, the referee had not.

Thurston, it seems, is allowed to tell the referees what they can and can't do. Thurston, it seems, is immune from the rules that bind everyone else.

And worse, neither Thurston, the NRL, nor the general public seem to see anything wrong with this.

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