There has been quite a lot of chatter and debate regarding who is the greatest halfback of all time in rugby league.
This debate has picked up some momentum in recent months as Johnathan Thurston led the Cowboys to their maiden premiership and won a record-breaking fourth Dally M Medal.
Andrew Johns is regarded as the best halfback ever, his two premierships, three Dally M Medals and countless superstar performances have him named in the team of the century.
I am going to compare both players careers and explain how Johns is still the superior player.
Thurston has four Dally Ms to Johns’ three, with JT winning the last two on the trot, tying with Jarryd Hayne in 2014.
This is an incredible achievement for Thurston, however most people seem to forget 2005, when JT won his first Dally M, Johns missed the first eight games of the season through injury and still finished second by one freaking point.
Had Johns played even two of those games he would have won his fourth Dally M Medal and JT would have won three.
They have both won four halfback of the year awards, but JT has won three five-eighth of the year awards. However you must bear in mind that Johns was in an era with Ricky Stuart, Alfie Langer, and Brett Kimmorley, so winning awards would have been much more difficult.
JT has won three Golden Boots to Johns’ two, but from 1991-98 no Golden Boots were awarded, and these were Johns’ prime years.
Also, Johns has won five Rugby League Week Player of the Year awards to JT’s one.
State of Origin
In terms of series wins, Thurston beats out Johns 9-5. JT has been a key player in one of the greatest Origin teams ever, playing every game during that dominance.
Johns, on the other hand, couldn’t find his feet at one position as he played hooker and came off the bench. JT had more of an impact early in his Origin career and is the leading point scorer in Origin history.
However JT has never had a performance like Johns did in Game 2 of 2005. In that match, a returning Johns single-handedly destroyed Queensland.
Thurston has had many fine performances in his career no doubt, but never on the magnitude of some of Johns’ games.
I would also like to point out that the last three games Cooper Cronk has missed the Blues have won, and Thurston has been pretty average – maybe Cronk’s impact to that team is greater than JT’s?
Both of them have been brilliant for their country, JT with 33 Tests and Johns with 24. Johns achieved a higher winning percentage than JT, has won two World Cups to JT’s one, and the Kangaroos were always number one while Johns played.
But teams like New Zealand and England are significantly better now than 15-20 years ago when Johns played.
JT’s amazing play in the 2006 Tri-Nations final and man of the match in the final of the 2013 World Cup shows how good he is. He is also the highest point scorer for Australia. That tilts it towards JT.
They have both won two premierships and one Clive Churchill medal, but it is not as close as it seems.
JT’s first grand final was won playing off the bench to replace the injured Steve Price. He didn’t play many minutes and wasn’t the reason why the Bulldogs made or won the grand final.
Furthermore, while JT kicked the winning field goal to win the 2015 grand final, and handling that pressure must be commended, he did miss a tough sideline conversion which would have won them the game. The best player in world should be able to make that.
Thurston also made zero line breaks, provided zero try assists, and made two errors – one of them leading directly to Jack Reed’s try. I still don’t understand how he won Clive Churchill Medal, if it wasn’t for a piece of Michael Morgan magic and costly errors, Brisbane should have won.
Again, JT led the side to the grand final, but played an average game in the biggest game of his career.
By contrast, in the 1997 grand final Johns made the greatest clutch play ever by setting up Darren Albert to score in the dying seconds against the more fancied Manly team. The game was played during the Super League war, meaning the Knights didn’t play the Broncos, Bulldogs or Sharks. To top it off, he did it all with a punctured lung!
In 2001, he helped Newcastle beat raging favourites Parramatta, by blowing the Eels of the park with three try assists in the first half en route to the Clive Churchill Medal.
The Eels were the shortest-priced team in the grand final in 20 years and statistically the best attacking team in NRL history.
Johns simply preformed on a greater level against tougher opposition.
Johns has a slightly better kicking game and passing game, while JT has a marginally better running game and ball skills, plus JT is the greater leader and competitor.
They are very close in goal kicking as well, with Johns the second highest scorer in NRL history.
Johns and JT both lift players around them as only the greats can. In defence, JT was never the defender Johns was – too many times he has been run over, but to his credit he gets up to chase.
While Johns is the best defensive halfbacks ever, his days at hooker really helped him with his tackling. Also, Johns was the inventor of the banana kick and was a master attacking the short side.
Joey’s three to JT’s one shows that Johns is still the greatest halfback of all.