A tribute may have honoured Johnathan Thurston before the State of Origin series decider at Suncorp Stadium but Queensland captain Cameron Smith provided the fitting farewell.
Smith at times choked back tears when he reflected on Thurston’s 37 Origin Maroons career before inviting the champion five-eighth to help him lift the victors’ shield after Queensland’s series-clinching 22-6 game three win on Wednesday night.
Thurston’s glittering Origin career was ended by a shoulder injury suffered in Queensland’s game two win in Sydney.
Denied a last hurrah at home by injury, Thurston received a pre-match video tribute at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night before a brief on-field interview with his family by his side.
The formalities appeared over for Thurston until an emotional Smith took to the podium to receive the winners’ shield yet again.
“I know there’s been plenty said and plenty of presentations this week and tonight, but I reckon you’re the greatest person to have ever pulled on a Maroon jersey mate,” Smith said to Thurston standing sideline with his right arm in a sling.
“It was unfortunate that he couldn’t finish here tonight in front of his beloved Queensland fans.
“I don’t know if I’ve come across a more passionate Queenslander.
“For what you’ve done in this jersey, I don’t think anyone could ever thank you enough mate.
“I wish you all the very best for the future. Let’s lift this shield up together.”
Thurston gratefully accepted the honour before sitting front and centre in the team victory photo brandishing the winners’ shield.
The champion five-eighth was then chaired off the ground by Smith and halfback Cooper Cronk after Queensland’s 11th series win in 12 years.
“It was a pretty special moment,” Smith said of raising the shield with his close mate.
“I would have much preferred for him to be out there with us on the field to be honest.
“I think he deserved to be up there.
“He’s not going to get another opportunity to play in this arena again. I just wanted him to enjoy the moment as much as he could.”
The bond between the pair was clear on the podium but Smith revealed the full extent of their tight relationship as he reflected on the series win post-match.
“He’s one of my best mates. We’ve been through a whole heap together.
“We’ve known each other since we were 10.
“For us to play against each other as 10-year-olds and our careers to pan out the way it has through Origin and Kangaroos it is pretty special.
“I wanted to give him the moment he deserved.
“I don’t think we are going to see a guy like him again for a long time.”