JT VISIT: South Burnett footy fans welcome league legend
STARSTRUCK NRL fans could not hide their excitement when league legend Johnathan Thurston arrived in the South Burnett to share some of his best game-time tips and bring a smile to the faces of families hit hard by drought and COVID-19.
The idea was for Thurston and the JT Academy to bring their message of ‘community resilience’ to the South Burnett and encourage people to have those important conversations surrounding mental health - a topic very close to his heart.
“Through rugby league I’ve been able to give back throughout the country, and that’s been a big part of who I am,” Thurston said.
“Rugby League’s given me a lot throughout my life, and it’s nice to be able to come to a region like the South Burnett, and put smiles on the kids faces.”
“It’s been a really challenging year, not only with COVID, but with drought, so I want to make sure that people are aware that help is out there and there’s no shame in going out and getting that help.”
Thurston is very open about having seen a psychologist himself, and said this person made a significant difference not only to his career, but his personal life as well.
As an athlete, he’s witnessed many close friends go through some dark times, and now fights to change the conversation around mental health through the JT Academy.
“Part of the challenges of being a professional, your always under the microscope with great focus on you,” Thurston’s long time manager Sam Ayoub said.
“Getting out into the community and seeing kids like this and talking to them is so rewarding for him. And it's rewarding for all of us in the Academy. It’s why we do it.”
According to Sam Johnson, General Manager at the JT Academy, Thurston’s willingness to share his personal struggles has inspired others to do the same.
“The message is around community resilience, looking out for your mates, and building those conversations around mental health,” Ms Johnson said.
“During the drought, the South Burnett community has really suffered, and then with COVID-19 on top of that, the conversation around mental health is more important than ever.”
“The message the Academy stems from is of ‘confidence, courage and self-belief’ – that’s our DNA and he wants to transfer that to the kids.”
The visit was made possible by the Darling Downs and West Moreton Primary Health Network (DDWMPHN) and facilitated by Health Promotion Officer Richard Henshaw from Darling Downs Health.
The event came about when councillor Kathy Duff reached out to Murgon Mustangs president Scott Prendergast, who launched the event through the ‘Beyond the Nest’ rugby league program.
In a turbulent year for sport, Mr Prendergast said the exciting visit was exactly what the budding athletes needed to boost morale.
“It's more than just a game. And Rugby League, or any sport for that matter, is so important in regional towns. It’s how people identify themselves,” he said.
“It’s how people engage. It’s the mateship and I suppose the bonding of communities.”
Mr Prendergast said he’s recently discussed the future of rugby league in the South Burnett with the kids and how they plan to move forward next year. Despite the recent blow of the pandemic, he is determined to keep rugby league going.
Not surprisingly, come question time, everyone had one thing on their mind - the 2015 NRL Grand Final between the Brisbane Broncos and North Queensland Cowboys, where Thurston kicked the winning field goal and was awarded the Clive Churchill Medal.
“The 2015 Grand Final was a question they all asked. It wasn’t the field goal they all wanted to talk about, but the miss kick,” Thurston laughed.