Thurston joins queue for Immortal status

When the sun sets on Johnathan Thurston’s career, it seems inevitable the North Queensland, Maroons and Kangaroos superstar will be given Immortal status as one of rugby league’s all-time greats.

It’s not so much a matter of if, but when.

But the more pertinent question may be whether Thurston deserves to become an Immortal ahead of fellow modern-day champions like Darren Lockyer, Brad Fittler, Mal Meninga and Peter Sterling, not to mention accomplished contemporaries Cameron Smith, Greg Inglis and Billy Slater?

St George legend Norm Provan has been overlooked on several occasions, but his name also remains in the conversation.

Thurston’s credentials appear unquestionable after he completed his career CV by co-captaining the Cowboys to their maiden premiership on Sunday night and also adding the Clive Churchill Medal to his collection.

Throw in a record four Dally M Medals, two Golden Boots for the world player of the year, nine State of Origin series wins with Queensland and a World Cup and his claims can’t be ignored.

But is Thurston entitled to Immortal status ahead of Lockyer, Fittler, Meninga, Sterling, Smith, Slater and Inglis – all Golden Boot recipients too – and Provan, named in the team of the century and the only man to play in 11 grand finals and winner of 10 in a row?

Or are rugby league fans too caught up in the excitement of the moment?

After more than a century of top-flight rugby league in Australia, only eight players have been immortalised.

At this rate, Thurston, who can’t be added until after he retires, has merely joined the queue to be ranked alongside Immortals Clive Churchill, Reg Gasnier, Johnny Raper, Graeme Langlands, Bob Fulton, Wally Lewis, Arthur Beetson and Andrew Johns.

Lockyer’s numbers are amazing – four titles with Brisbane, a premiership-record 355 first grade games and an unrivalled 59 Tests for Australia, including a record 38 as captain, the best of them.

The fullback-turned-five-eighth has also won a World Cup and six Origin series and seems next in line.

Fittler, also in the exclusive 300-game club and a 40-Test stalwart, is a triple World Cup winner and won seven Origin series for the Blues after becoming the youngest player in history, at just 18 in 1990, to be thrust into the interstate cauldron.

But his huge impact on the game is perhaps best illustrated by his influential deeds at club level.

Fittler featured in six grand finals for two different clubs and led the Sydney Roosters to nine straight finals series.

It’s no coincidence the Roosters hadn’t made the playoffs for a decade before his arrival in 1996 and their run stopped the year he retired.

Meninga did it all, inspiring Canberra to five grand finals and three premierships in a golden eight-season span and remaining the only player to make four Kangaroo tours of Great Britain.

A centre in the team of the century, Meninga also won a pair of World Cups in a 46-Test career and seven Origin series.

Like Meninga, Sterling is among only five players to have twice toured Britain unbeaten with the Kangaroos.

Often forgotten in the Immortals debate, Sterling helped Parramatta land four premierships and is the only player to sweep the Golden Boot, Dally M, Rothmans Medal and Clive Churchill Medal, the four most prestigious individual gongs on offer.

When they retire, Smith, Inglis and Slater will also have claims for elevation to the Immortals.

Smith’s may be undeniable.

The Queensland and Australian captain has already chalked up a record-equalling 36 Origin games and nine series wins, 43 Tests, won a Dally M, a World Cup and led Melbourne to three victories in five grand finals.

Inglis and Slater have also both won a Dally M to go with their Golden Boots, landed premierships and featured in five grand finals and a World Cup triumph.

For all the hyperbole, Johnathan Thurston is far from the only Immortal in waiting.

And the wait may be a while.

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