Canterbury great Steve Mortimer says if he had remained in control of the Bulldogs the NRL club would still have Johnathan Thurston and they would have appeared in four more grand finals.
Mortimer said Thurston would not have been lost under his watch which ended controversially in 2004 when he resigned in the fallout over a Bulldogs pre-season scandal in Coffs Harbour.
Mortimer took over the club in late 2002 in the wake of a salary cap drama in which the club was hit with a maximum fine of $500,000 and stripped of all 37 of their competition points.
The two-time premiership winning Bulldogs captain said he could tell from the outset that fellow halfback Thurston was the key to a revival and was making plans to ensure that.
However, fate stepped in at 2004 for Mortimer – and Thurston played his last match for the Bulldogs when he came off the bench in their 2004 grand final victory..
Craving a starting berth, Thurston left for North Queensland in 2005, leading the Cowboys to their maiden grand final appearance in his first season at the club.
Ten years later the four-time Dally M Medallist again holds the key for the Cowboys’ maiden title in Sunday’s grand final against Brisbane.
“I watched him play when he was younger and I was looking to roll over one or two players so we could focus on getting him a contract but what happened next was the Coffs Harbour rape crisis,” Mortimer told AAP.
“I knew I was going to have my throat cut (over the scandal), sadly I had to move on.
“I never got a chance to talk to (Thurston’s manager) Sam Ayoub sadly.
“But that’s by the by. I am very happy for him.”
Still, Mortimer wondered what might have been.
“If we had Thurston up to now we would have played up to four more grand finals,” he said.
“He would definitely had meant more premierships for the Bulldogs.
“I saw from day one he was a great player but more importantly a great person.”
Since their 2004 premiership triumph, the Bulldogs have appeared in two losing grand finals – in 2012 and last year’s defeat at the hands of South Sydney.
Mortimer – who won a total of four titles with his beloved Bulldogs – likened Thurston to his heyday in the 1980s.
“Like Johnathan I used to play with a bit of passion, it was using the heart before the brain,” Mortimer laughed.
“And sometimes the passion got the better of me.
Mortimer wasn’t so confident that Thurston could deliver the Cowboys to their maiden premiership though.
“My heart says the Cowboys for Sunday but my head says the Broncos.”