THE Golden Boot nominees were announced this week but it’s safe to say everyone knows who is going to win it.
There can surely be no victor other than the regal Johnathan Thurston as the world’s greatest player in 2015?
I, like many, have marvelled at Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s footwork during this series against England, the dazzling New Zealand full-back almost making the dancing Phil Ford look like a JCB stuck in reverse with his wondrous stepping.
At just 22 years old, the sky is the limit for the Sydney Rooster while, similarly, Zak Hardaker – the other of three nominations – has enjoyed a stunning campaign with treble-winning Leeds Rhinos, coming of age this term, illustrated by him taking the prestigious Steve Prescott Man of Steel Award.
The Leeds No 1 has taken on the England role as well and, although yet to show his attacking best there, maybe that will come in timely fashion during today’s decider against the Kiwis in Wigan. A game that, by the way, potentially has all the hallmarks of a classic.
But Thurston is in a league of his own. The Aussie half-back seemingly had the ball on a string as he commanded that remarkable third State of Origin game against New South Wales, a record 52-6 rout that left their vanquished rivals bewildered, embarrassed and, mostly, in shock.
That secured the series and instantly re-delivered Origin back to the Maroons having seen their eight-year run ended – momentarily – by the Blues in 2014.
It is a sign of a brilliant player when he can rise to the occasion under such pressure – people were saying Queensland were done – yet Thurston came back and did it all again in the NRL Grand Final, too.
Such was the drama of that game between his North Queensland Cowboys and Brisbane Broncos, it almost made Sam Burgess’s heroics of 12 months earlier feel like an episode of Countryfile. Maybe that’s a little far-fetched but you get the gist…
Thurston came to the fore once more when it mattered most in the first-ever final to go to extra-time, slotting that priceless drop-goal, yet he was far from his best, kicking awkwardly at times, getting caught in possession twice by the menacing Adam Blair and struggling for a breakthrough.
But there was never any panic. So calm. Got the job done. The Cowboys’ first-ever Premiership.
His only negative was failing to prevent a defeat against New Zealand in the Anzac Test in May, criminally Australia’s only Test match of the entire year.
Having won the award in 2011 and again two years later, he would be the first player to receive it on three occasions.
Furthermore, never in the history of rugby league has a player won an NRL premiership and claimed the Dally M Medal (our Man of Steel), Clive Churchill Medal (Grand Final MOM) and Golden Boot for the world’s best player in the same season.
The Queenslander is 33 in April so he won’t be around too much longer. Given the Aussie Test side’s lack of games, it makes it all the more imperative to see this genius in action whenever or wherever possible.
Consequently, that makes the World Club Challenge at Headingley between Leeds and the Cowboys on February 21 the must-see fixture of 2016. Miss it at your peril.