Johnathan Thurston has revealed how he’s gone from being a star on the field to helping make a difference for many others off it.
Johnathan Thurston has revealed how he’s gone from being a star on the field to helping make a difference for many others off it.

Life after footy: JT on date nights, daughters and dreams

He is a rugby league legend who could send a stadium filled with tens of thousands of fans into a frenzy with a kick of a ball.

Yet Johnathan Thurston is most proud of what he does off the field: being a family man.

"Being a parent changes everyone in every way," Thurston says.

"A lot of different people have a lot of different journeys to starting a family, and ours was a tough one.

"Once you start a family, it is rewarding and challenging at the same time. It is good fun but of course it takes a lot of energy and patience to raise children.

"There is nothing more important to me than being the best husband and father that I can be."

Thurston and his wife Samantha are parents to four children - Frankie, Charlie, Lillie and Remie - aged between seven and one.

 

Johnathan Thurston with wife Samantha and children Frankie, Charlie, Lillie, and Remi, soon after Remi's birth in February, 2019. Photo: Courtesy of Thurston family
Johnathan Thurston with wife Samantha and children Frankie, Charlie, Lillie, and Remi, soon after Remi's birth in February, 2019. Photo: Courtesy of Thurston family

 

"My children are never still. They're bananas," he told the Townsville Eye with that infectious laugh he is known for.

"It's non-stop in our house. The kids have plenty of activities to keep them active, be it horse riding, swimming, nippers or dance.

"They are always in the pool, having a great time. I love watching them grow, interact with each other."

 

Johnathan and Samantha Thurston and children Frankie, Charlie, Lillie, and Remi. Photo: courtesy of Thurston family
Johnathan and Samantha Thurston and children Frankie, Charlie, Lillie, and Remi. Photo: courtesy of Thurston family

 

And the Thurstons have recently achieved the holy grail of parenting: their children are sleeping through the night.

The pair is even able to go on "date lunches" and "date night dinner".

Thurston, 37, says he and Samantha make sure they make time for each other.

"We are lucky we have a good support network up here, which helps Sam and I to sneak away for a couple of hours for a date lunch, and now the girls are sleeping through, a date dinner," he explains.

Thurston is sharing with the Townsville Eye how life has panned out after he hung up his boots on a stellar rugby league career that saw him being named one of the greats of the game and the so-called "king of the north".

 

 

Johnathan Thurston with wife Samantha and children Frankie and Charlie during their holiday in Japan recently. Photo: Courtesy of Thurston family
Johnathan Thurston with wife Samantha and children Frankie and Charlie during their holiday in Japan recently. Photo: Courtesy of Thurston family

 

 

Community work

Thurston's willingness to give is as legendary as his sporting prowess.

The four-time Dally M Medallist, and proud Gunggari man, is determined to use his fame to help others.

When the Eye caught up with Thurston, just before the unveiling of his bronze statue outside the Queensland Country Bank Stadium, the pride in his voice when he talks about the Johnathan Thurston Academy is clear.

"The academy is now two years old and the difference we have made over such a short time has blown me away," Thurston explains.

JT with his daughters Frankie 6, Charlie 4, Lillie 3 and Remie 1 at the unveiling of his bronze statue outside Queensland Country Bank Stadium. Picture: Alix Sweeney
JT with his daughters Frankie 6, Charlie 4, Lillie 3 and Remie 1 at the unveiling of his bronze statue outside Queensland Country Bank Stadium. Picture: Alix Sweeney

"I'm extremely proud of the team I have got working for me, they continue to amaze me every day with the work that is being done, and what we are trying to achieve.

"We still have a lot of work ahead of us, especially with the school programs we are running. We want to make sure the kids are growing to their full potential, and to provide opportunities and a platform for them to be the best they can be."

 

NQ Cowboys against Cronulla Sharks at 1300Smiles Stadium. Jonathan Thurston runs out with daughters Frankie and Charlie. Picture: Evan Morgan
NQ Cowboys against Cronulla Sharks at 1300Smiles Stadium. Jonathan Thurston runs out with daughters Frankie and Charlie. Picture: Evan Morgan

 

The academy was established in February 2018 and aims to be a leading national provider of employment initiatives and training programs aimed at health, wellbeing, sport and education.

The academy's strength is developing and delivering programs to individuals, equipping them with the right skills, knowledge and attributes to make a significant and positive future impact.

Through education, community and industry partnerships, the academy supports people to reach their personal, educational and career goals.

Last year Thurston received his most prestigious award yet with an ­appointment to the Order of Australia.

Johnathan Thurston was presented with an Order of Australia Medal in the general division at a ceremony held at The Ville Resort and Casino, Townsville. PICTURE: Matt Taylor.
Johnathan Thurston was presented with an Order of Australia Medal in the general division at a ceremony held at The Ville Resort and Casino, Townsville. PICTURE: Matt Taylor.

"I now understand the impact that rugby league has and I started having that impact on people, especially young kids, and I don't take that for granted," Thurston says.

"Especially with the indigenous kids and being a role model to them, I really try to show them that they can do anything; my focus is on education and getting kids educated because that can open up their future.

"It's not just about getting kids to school but keeping them there so they can learn."

Thurston's work post rugby league as an ambassador for various indigenous organisations as well as the Johnathan Thurston Academy, has formed a big part of his recognition in last year's Queen's Birthday Honours List.

 

Johnathan Thurston with Quaden Bayles before the NRL match between the Indigenous All-Stars and the New Zealand Maori Kiwis All-Stars. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)
Johnathan Thurston with Quaden Bayles before the NRL match between the Indigenous All-Stars and the New Zealand Maori Kiwis All-Stars. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

 

Thurston was named a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) Medal for his significant service to rugby league and as a role model.

Even for a man with a long list of accolades, this is big.

"It's a huge honour; you don't go out to achieve those types of things, you play footy because you love playing footy and things that come with it are a bonus," Thurston says.

"Once you start getting older you start to understand the impact that footy has and that you can have individually on the community."

 

Work-life-home balance

Thurston admits to finding the work-life-home balance a challenge at times.

Post rugby league, he has been busier than ever.

 

Skytrans owners Peter Collings and NRL star Johnathan Thurston. Photo: Skytrans
Skytrans owners Peter Collings and NRL star Johnathan Thurston. Photo: Skytrans

 

Besides a full schedule working on community-focused programs, Thurston is a shareholder in Collings Aviation Holdings, which operates regional airline Skytrans, and is a board member of Tourism and Events Queensland.

He also has a Channel 9 sports commentary contract.

"This year I want to get that home-work-life balance a bit better than last year," he says. "Life after football is a lot more busy than I ever imagined.

"That was quite a shock for my first year out. But saying that it was a good busy."

 

Suncorp Storm Season ambassador Johnathan Thurston teaming up with Wulguru Little Athletics Club to help with their inventory ahead of storm season. JT and Cheyenne Harcoo, 11, taking inventory. Picture: Alix Sweeney
Suncorp Storm Season ambassador Johnathan Thurston teaming up with Wulguru Little Athletics Club to help with their inventory ahead of storm season. JT and Cheyenne Harcoo, 11, taking inventory. Picture: Alix Sweeney

 

Thurston says he is grateful for the opportunities that have been offered to him.

"I felt I couldn't say no, so that was good in that regard," he says. "I have been really comfortable about how the first year out of the game went.

"But I will continue to get that work -life-home balance a bit better.

"Last year was just a whirlwind really."

 

Environmentally aware

Thurston came on board with solar company Instyle Solar as its first official ambassador late last year.

The multi-year partnership will see Thurston share his own journey of living with solar via a series of online content.

Johnathan Thurston at home. Picture: Alix Sweeney
Johnathan Thurston at home. Picture: Alix Sweeney

He says partnering with Instyle Solar was a "no-brainer" and the perfect fit for him and his family.

"Firstly, every little bit helps when it comes to protecting the environment.

"Secondly, we have six people living in our house and our energy usage is considerable," Thurston says. "It makes sense to be responsible and save money where and when we can.

"What we save on our electricity bill because of the solar is amazing.

"In the North, we're in a prime position to take advantage of the beautiful and sunny climate, so working with a company like Instyle Solar was something I've been interested in doing for some time, and a great opportunity to hopefully lead by example."

 

JT and eldest child Frankie. Photo: Courtesy of Thurston family
JT and eldest child Frankie. Photo: Courtesy of Thurston family

 

Johnathan and little Remie Lee.
Johnathan and little Remie Lee.

 

The Thurston family have 32 solar panels atop their Townsville home.

"I really do believe every bit helps when it comes to the environment, and adding solar power to your home or business can make a big difference," he says. "We, as a family, are climate conscious.

"With four young children, we try to lower our carbon footprint and do our part.

"The children are very aware of their environment and very aware that we need to look after it.

"When we go down the beach, Frankie and the girls are forever picking up plastic and I'm putting it in the bins or putting it in my pockets. Just simple things like that.

"Sam and I tell them the plastic can get stuck in the turtles or in other marine life.

"They obviously hear things from school as well about being environmentally aware."

 

Johnathan Thurston speaks about life after footy and his new parenthood duties. Picture: Alix Sweeney
Johnathan Thurston speaks about life after footy and his new parenthood duties. Picture: Alix Sweeney

 

Forever home

Thurston's love of Townsville didn't happen overnight but when it did happen it was sealed.

He moved to Townsville in 2005, as a 25-year-old.

"When I first moved to Townsville, I didn't think that when I would retire from football that I would stay," he says.

"When I first moved here I didn't think I'd be here for that long to start with. And then the longer I stayed the more I fell in love with Townsville.

"I always thought I would move back to Sydney because that is where I thought the opportunities would be for me.

"But I have been given the same opportunities living in Townsville as well.

"Sure it means a bit more time away from home, which isn't as great, but that is the sacrifice I make to live in such a beautiful city."

 

Cowboys’ Johnathan Thurston and his daughter Frankie after the Cowboys won the 2015 NRL Grand Final between the Brisbane Broncos and North Queensland Cowboys at ANZ Stadium, Sydney. Pic Brett Costello
Cowboys’ Johnathan Thurston and his daughter Frankie after the Cowboys won the 2015 NRL Grand Final between the Brisbane Broncos and North Queensland Cowboys at ANZ Stadium, Sydney. Pic Brett Costello

 

Thurston doesn't hold back when describing what Townsville means to him.

"I'm here for the rest of my life," he says. "The people are great, it's a great place to raise children.

"The community really gets behind each other, as witnessed in last year's floods."

Thurston is also grateful how respectful the Townsville community is of his family.

"When my family is at the park or the beach, or going for a walk, when we are out as a family, the community is respectful of that and let us have that family time," he says.

"Kids do come up and say hello and ask for a photo, and that is fine."


SCU graduate’s incredible coronavirus breakthrough

premium_icon SCU graduate’s incredible coronavirus breakthrough

HE HAS developed real-time software that is already being used to save lives in...

The workers who’ll be targeted in new virus testing blitz

premium_icon The workers who’ll be targeted in new virus testing blitz

Mass testing of well Australians in at-risk jobs is likely

Restrictions may ease sooner than thought

Restrictions may ease sooner than thought

National Cabinet meeting today to discuss Australia’s progress