Johnathan Thurston may be the greatest rugby league player of all time. But on Wednesday night he was more worried about some kids in his home state of Queensland than he was about the name on the back of his jersey.
The Maroons five-eighth had just led Queensland to a gritty 6-4 win over NSW in the opening State of Origin match for 2016, and immediately he shifted the focus off himself and onto more important things.
As Thurston's post-match interview wrapped up, he asked if he could give a quick shout-out. Usually this is to Mum, a partner, your mates on the cans from back home, a sponsor.
But there was none of that from JT. A beloved figure in his community with a reputation for being just as good a person off the field as he is a playmaker on it, Thurston had a message for some schoolkids in Aurukun at the Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy.
"I just want to say a quick hello to the Aurukun State School," he said.
"There's obviously been a lot of trouble up there, so to all the students there, I just want you to believe in yourselves and keep turning up to school."
The far-north Queensland school is in turmoil after 20 teachers were evacuated during violent incidents that forced the closure of the campus for six weeks.
It's a heavy situation that some football players, let alone people, wouldn't have front of mind. Not for Thurston. He understands that more than a few kids in Queensland and NSW look up to rugby league players. You can see that pictured here, where a student of the school is wearing a Broncos shirt. Thurston takes that responsibility seriously.
On a night when Sam Thaiday took the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, Thurston showed his teammate how to conduct himself with class, humility and selflessness.
While Thaiday was whooping up the victory with a grubby sexual aside about losing his virginity, Thurston was turning his attention away from a game and sending a message to a community in turmoil. Not every professional sportsperson is equipped to be a role model, but he embraces it.Suggest a correction