Forget the record four Dally Ms, the World Cup triumph, and the unprecedented eight State of Origin series wins in a row.
If there’s a crowning achievement in Johnathan Thurston’s great rugby league career it’s been his transformation into arguably the game’s most popular player.
It’s not just the kids supporting opposing teams, like Melbourne Storm’s eight-year-old Oscar at AAMI Park last Saturday night, that he’s converted into unabashed fans.
Brisbane might have the most members at Sunday’s NRL grand final in Sydney but North Queensland will have the most fans, and a lot of that is down to their champion halfback.
The man who NSW Origin supporters can’t bring themselves to hate has done much to make the Cowboys this year’s sentimental favourites as they chase a maiden premiership.
After having his share of scrapes in younger years, 32-year-old Thurston has learned later in his career to appreciate the status and obligations his talent have brought him.
In return, the public have been drawn to a smiling superstar who is relaxed and interacts with fans.
North Queensland coach Paul Green reckons Thurston’s popularity transcends interstate rivalry because he embodies a great sporting quality.
“He’s humble,” Green said.
“He represents a lot of what Australians like in their sports stars.
“His humility, his willingness to help anyone, he’s obviously a great competitor, and he never stops trying.
“They’re all the attributes that Australians really value.”
Thurston hasn’t been without his faults.
In 2012 he was kicked out of a Brisbane casino and arrested for public nuisance.
But Cowboys chairman Laurence Lancini said Thurston had more than repaid the club’s faith in him.
“Young players, particularly someone with the opportunities he’s had, all make mistakes along the way, Lancini said.
“But regardless of his mistakes, he’s always wanted to be a better person. Since that time, we’ve all watched him develop into that.”
On the field, Thurston’s Cowboys co-captain Matt Scott believes Thurston wins fans with his courage as much as his enormous talent.
“He’s just that ultimate competitor,” Scott said.
“Everyone can see the amount of effort he puts into each game.
“He gets battered around, people try and target him, his body’s gone through a lot.
“He’s 32 now and he’s still in everything he does on the field.”
The current Queensland and Australian playmaker, Thurston will play his 268th NRL game on Sunday.
He hasn’t missed an Origin game in over a decade, and represented his country 32 times.
His record fourth Dally M took him past eighth Immortal Andrew Johns, and added to his record fourth RLPA Players’ Player award he took out last month.
He has already won a premiership, with the Bulldogs, in 2004.
But Townsville local Brooklyn, who was at the club’s open training session on Tuesday, said much of Thurston’s charm stemmed beyond his actions on the footy field.
“He’s a player’s player, but he’s also a family man,” she said.
“He’s been committed to Townsville for so long, and he’s been a leader.
“I like him for all those things.”