Immortal-bound JT given King’s royal approval
QUEENSLAND icon Wally Lewis says rugby league owes Johnathan Thurston the ultimate honour for 17 years of toil by crowning the Cowboys champion an NRL Immortal.
On the eve of Thurston's farewell home game on Friday night against Parramatta in Townsville, 'The King' Lewis says he would welcome the Maroons maestro into rugby league's most select club with open arms.
Just 13 players in the code's 110-year history have Immortal status, with five legends - Mal Meninga, Norm Provan, Frank Burge, Dally Messenger and Dave Brown - inducted three weeks ago.
The other eight Immortals are Clive Churchill, Bob Fulton, Reg Gasnier, Johnny Raper, Graeme Langlands, Arthur Beetson, Andrew Johns and Lewis.
Broncos legend Darren Lockyer and current NRL stars Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Greg Inglis all have claims to Immortal coronation, but Lewis says Thurston must not be overlooked.
"JT has to be an Immortal," Lewis said.
"Anyone who suggests he shouldn't be an Immortal needs medical help. It's only a matter of time before he becomes an Immortal.
"He has been the most inspirational player ... time and time again he has stepped up when big games hinge on his performance.
"I can't see many reasons why he wouldn't be there. The only thing that's been questioned over the years is his defence, but his ability to be brilliant in attack and consistently come up with match-winning plays puts him above others over the last 15 or 20 years.
"I guess it's hard to rate whether JT is better than Smith or Slater or Inglis, but I just know he has to be an Immortal as soon as he qualifies for it.
"Locky will be ahead of JT because he retired earlier, but I can't endorse Thurston enough to be an Immortal."
Thurston, Smith, Slater and Inglis will not be eligible for the next Immortal induction in 2022 because they have not been retired from the game for five years.
That means Thurston must wait almost another decade to be considered for NRL Immortality, but even Lockyer - the raging favourite for 2022 - believes the Cowboys playmaker is a shoo-in.
"He will be an Immortal for sure," he said.
"Obviously it will have to go through a process, but it's not a matter of if with JT, it's a matter of when.
"Once he goes into the Hall of Fame, he will be elevated to Immortal status which is where he deserves to be."
Newly-crowned Immortal Meninga, Thurston's former Queensland and Test coach, lauded his evolution as both a player and person.
"He is up there with the greatest, easily - as a footballer, as a competitor and as a bloke," he said.
"He has all the marks you would want in a rugby league person.
"He has used his success in rugby league to make a difference in the wider community, and that is an amazing thing.
"That selflessness is inspiring, and an incredible legacy to leave the game."
While Thurston's hopes of a premiership finale have been dashed, Cowboys coach Paul Green backed him to come out firing tonight.
"He is preparing for a big game, he has done it so many times," Green said.
"As a rookie coach (arriving at the Cowboys in 2014), it was great having senior guys like JT and Matt Scott supporting me.
"His attitude made it easier for me. He has a lot of attributes you want to see, he's a great competitor, he backs himself and he cares a lot about the team."