With the North Queensland Cowboys having their most disappointing start to a season in years, losing five of their last six, and the ageing Johnathan Thurston looking like a shell of himself, it’s time for him to hang up the boots.
He should go out while many think he is still the best footballer of a generation, rather than leaving a bitter taste in anyone’s mouth.
Thurston has played over 300 games, won four Dally M Medals, three Golden Boots, two premierships and a Clive Churchill Medal – along with countless other awards over his 16-year career. I would love to see his pool room.
So why keep playing? What is left to achieve?
Last year’s final series showed the Cowboys don’t need Thurston to win big games anymore. This season is showing he is a problem more than a solution.
Obviously, coming back from his shoulder injury has put a huge toll on his body, and next week Thurston celebrates his 35th birthday, thus entering the age where you’re too old be called young, but too young to be called old – speaking from experience, your mid-30s suck.
His inactivity period is also working against him, Thurston looks sluggish and out on his feet only minutes after kick off, and struggles the rest of the game. I was there to witness his 300th match and he looked worn out after 15 minutes. Worse still, the Cowboys have not won a game since (damn that goalpost tackling at the Broncos game).
But the greatest never know when to stop.
Muhammad Ali – not just the greatest boxer, but athlete this world has ever known – was advised by his doctor, Ferdie Pacheco, to quit after the brutal ‘Thrilla in Manila’ against Joe Frazier in 1975. That fight saw both men come close to dying in the ring, but Ali had ten more fights over a six-year period, with a two-year retirement in between.
He finally hung up the gloves after his loss in 1981 to future heavyweight champ Trevor Burbick, but with major medical problems. His last two fights were completely unnecessary and never should have happened.
From 1981 until his death in 2016, Ali was battling Parkinson’s disease. I often wonder, if he retired when told to how different his life would have been.
Ali’s eventual heavyweight successor, Mike Tyson, was also a broken man by 2005. In the commentary of his last fight, against Kevin McBride, it was asked, “Has ‘Iron Mike’ become ‘Mellow Mike’?” i
In that fight, Tyson fell over after the bell, slumping into the ropes, with the ref having to pick him up.
His trainer, Aussie Jeff Fenech, called off the fight to further save Tyson from any more embarrassment, calling an end to the second-greatest career in heavyweight boxing history.
Surely Thurston does not want to share the same fate as Ali or Tyson? I know that comparing boxers to footy players is a bit of a stretch, so let’s look at Wally Lewis.
‘The King’ had one of the best careers ever, winning premierships in the Bribsbane Rrugby League, Origin and Test victories – many as captain – and being named an Immortal in 1999.
However, after a dispute with Wayne Bennett, Lewis left the Brisbane Broncos to finish his playing days with the Gold Coast Seagulls, where he was not at his best and it tarnished many brilliant memories.
It was a terrible way for the best-ever player to finish, with many wondering why he bothered.
Johnathan Thurston is in danger of doing the same. He needs to give it up now, rather than later, as each lost dulls his past.