"You might not be the biggest or the fastest, but you need to have that self-belief that you’re good enough."

When I was a kid, my dad played local footy in Brisbane and I was the ball boy for their team. Watching him play was my first introduction to League but it was only when I started playing from about eight that I started loving the game.

The Canberra Raiders were my favourite team and I used to run around the backyard thinking I was Mal Meninga and Brett Mullins and Ricky Stuart and the likes. I always had dreams of playing professionally, but when you’re a kid they’re just dreams and you don’t realise until you get a bit older that you want to try and pursue them.

It wasn’t until year eleven and twelve that I had a growth spurt and started catching up with the rest of my age group and started training with older players. When I was seventeen I was playing local A-grade against under nineteens who were older, tackled harder and the game was a lot faster, which helped my rugby and gave me a lot of confidence moving forward. I wasn’t great but I was competitive. That’s when my footy really started to take off.

I went to a good rugby league school, St Mary’s in Toowoomba, that had the Walker brothers come out of there and a couple other locals that got into NRL clubs. It was a great opportunity for me to finish my schooling and play a part of the Confraternity Shield, which is a national carnival played between Catholic Schools, where I started getting a little bit of interest from scouts.

Like all kids I had dreams of playing in the NRL, but the interest from local clubs amounted to nothing. It was pretty shattering. At that stage I had just finished high school and they didn’t want to further any talks with me, but I still just loved footy so much. I kept playing local league, training Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and playing on Saturdays, then going out with my mates and having a good time.

The turning point came when I played a Queensland nineteens match in 2001 and it all happened quite quickly for me after that. I had a pretty good performance that night and the following week a Bulldog scout came out to chat with me. I went down to Bulldogs to have a look at their set up and moved to Sydney a couple weeks later. I made my debut for the Bulldogs in 2002 and had a pretty good couple of years until I broke my leg in 2004, which put me out for three months. Being so young and just starting out, I found it very difficult to deal with because the injury had to heal itself. But I got back on the paddock towards the back end of that year and finished with an NRL Premiership win at the Bulldogs.

It was quite a whirlwind start for me, winning the 2004 Grand Final. As a twenty-one-year-old, I couldn’t dream of things happening so quickly within three years of moving to Sydney. It wasn’t another ten years till I got the chance to win another one in 2015. People have talked about that being the greatest Grand Final of all time, so to be a part of that and win the Cowboys their first Premiership is special.
The State of Origin win in 2006 and then the 2013 World Cup stand out as special times as well. Our World Cup team was just unstoppable, every time we pulled that jersey on in that tournament we just felt like we were invincible and the scoreboard and the results showed that.

I love rugby league, all sports really, but rugby league challenges you like no other. There will be people that doubt you, you might not be the biggest or fastest, but you need to have that self-belief that you’re good enough.

I want to use my platform to inspire the next generation of our culture and the next generation of Australian kids. I understand my role that I play in the community now and I’m very passionate about my culture, my heritage and where I’m from. There’re a lot of programmes out there for students now run by the government that weren’t around when I was at high school and they’ve got a great opportunity to use these to launch themselves into whatever career they like, whether that be nursing or a lawyer or a doctor or a mechanic, or whatever they choose to be. Their schooling is their platform for this, and while I did complete year twelve, the one regret I do have is that I wish I paid a lot more attention at school because I know now how important schooling is in terms of giving you the opportunity to better yourself.

Johnathan Thurston / Greatest Rugby League Player of All Time

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