Thurston full of awe for milestone men in round of a thousand games

Johnathan Thurston is racking up the miles in this milestone weekend – a round where the NRL celebrates 1000 games.

Townsville-based Thurston was in Melbourne on Saturday night for Cameron Smith's 300th and jumped on a plane on Sunday morning to fly to Sydney and then a hire car to drive to Gosford for Gavin Cooper's 300th.

Since Benji Marshall's 300th starts when Cooper's ends – and Captain Kirk's teleportation machine hasn't been invented yet – Thurston can't get to Parramatta's Bankwest Stadium in time.

But Thurston was willing to share 300 words about Cooper with NRL.com.

Wests Tigers and Kiwis coach Michael Maguire chose 300 words for Marshall.

Storm's premiership-winning coach Craig Bellamy gave 400 words on Smith.

So 1000 words from the heart for three players celebrating 1,000 games… the first time it has happened in the NRL and unlikely to ever happen again.

Johnathan Thurston on Gavin Cooper

"He's one of my best friends. Our families are very close.

"Since we met in 2005 at the same year at the Cowboys, and even though he went away to a couple of clubs [the Titans and Panthers] we always kept in touch.

"When he was thinking of coming back in 2011, he said I was the first one he called. I jumped up and down.

"I always thought he played his best footy here at the Cowboys. And he's a genuine and decent man.

"You couldn't find anyone that would say a bad word about him. He's still in touch with those players from his other clubs. He gives everyone the time of day, whether you play football or not.

"People just seem to gravitate towards him.

"Obviously there's a couple of other milestones this weekend, but Gavin has got his 300 games in the back row which requires a lot of talent and stamina.

"So it's a terrific milestone for him. I'm very proud of him. I've also loved playing games with him – looking to my left and he was always there to take the pass or the hard run.

"But he's the type of person who won't want any fuss about all of this.

"He just goes about his business but I know the club and the players are certainly not going to let this one slip by. They will be making it a special moment for him.

"It's a huge achievement and I'm so glad I get to celebrate with him – with a few beers afterwards. He's a magnificent person and a wonderful player and teammate.

"And that's why he's so special to us. It's not just about his longevity. It's about his love for his mates, his family and his football club."

Michael Maguire on Benji Marshall

"I don't think anyone wants Benji to retire – definitely not from the way he's playing.

"From what he's shown this year he's actually got better and better throughout the season.

"One thing Benji has done is learnt to adapt to where he is in his career. For players who make 300 games, the game subtly changes continuously. Your body will only allow you to do certain things throughout that time.

"It's the will to want to change and that's something I've definitely noticed in Benji – his desire to want to improve. And that improvement has also come in his leadership of younger men, and being able to influence those around him.

"Kids can still learn from him – they still watch in wonder at the flick passes and jinking steps of his younger days. He had the world at his feet back then but didn't understand it.

"He really understands the influences he has now and he's willing to share that now to the young kids coming through.

"When I was appointed New Zealand coach, I sat down with Benji and Jason Nightingale at a café to get their views on where the international team had been throughout the years and what it meant to the Kiwi players.

"You could see then Benji had unfinished business. I don't think he believed he could get there but throughout the pre-season he did extra work and he grew with the game.

"The influence he had on the Kiwis team in June [in the Test against Tonga] after being away seven years, was quite remarkable.

"He's very passionate about the Kiwis team being successful. We talk about wanting to win World Cups together – that's not just Benji and I but all the Kiwis.

"I kind of wish Benji was able to play 300 games for the Kiwis too."

*(At least he's likely to get to 30 – currently stands on 28)* 

Craig Bellamy on Cameron Smith

"I don't think there's much more to be said, or added to what has already been said about Cameron.

"But through the good times, the bad times, the middle-of-the-road times, he's always been very level-headed with his footy and life in general.

"He's got a very balanced look on everything. Whatever the situation is that comes up, he's just able to handle it and move on. I haven't seen much that gets him upset.

"If you were talking to someone about him, and they didn't know who Cameron Smith was or what he's done, you'd tell them: 'He's done something quite marvellous in our game because he's been very, very consistent and very, very good.'

"That for me is what's made Cameron great. He's been nothing but high-quality for 17 years.

"He might have had only four to six games in 400 where he felt he hasn't been at his peak. But they were never poor games in my eyes.

"No-one has played as much quality footy as Cameron Smith has.

"We all go on about his consistency but now he's played 400 games at that consistency. So that to me is why he's the greatest – his quality performances year after year, after year.

"He seems to be enjoying his footy even more now, or more than he was three or four years ago.

"Maybe it's a realisation the retirement is close, or getting closer, so he wants to enjoy everything as much as he can.

"He gets on so well with the younger blokes coming through our club – he's got time for everyone, he always has. Maybe it's his laidback nature coming to the fore more now.

"In the dressing room he doesn't turn anyone down for an autograph or a photo or a chat.

"He's always had a great love for the game. But he's always had a great respect for it too.

"He knows one of the most important parts of the game are the supporters, so he always makes time for them.

"Maybe that's why he's always the last one into the showers, the last to leave the dressing room, the last one on the team bus.

"Well now it’s time for us to take our time in telling Cameron how much we respect and admire him."