Johnathan Thurston has broken 14 years of silence around allegations of sexual assault that rocked the Canterbury Bulldogs in 2004.
Appearing on 60 Minutes on Sunday night, the NRL legend said he felt it was time to speak out, despite the side vowing to never speak about the infamous saga.
A young JT helped the Bulldogs claim the NRL premiership in 2004, before it all came crashing down when players were accused of gang raping a woman on an end-of-season trip to Coffs Harbour.
The players were cleared of any wrongdoing after the DDP found insufficient evidence to press charges, but Thurston still regrets his teammates not being allowed to publicly defend themselves.
“That’s the advice that we had been given,” Thurston said. “Everyone was tarnished with these allegations.
“It was a traumatic time for everyone. Obviously, the victim at the time and certainly the club at the time as well.
“I wish we could have come out and cleared our names straight away, because everything was consensual at the time.
“Speaking about it is quite difficult knowing that my daughters will probably see this when they’re older — and having to sit down and explain to them what is my side of this story is going to be tough.”
Thurston said he wasn’t involved in what took place, but conceded it was “definitely not” acceptable.
“I wasn’t a part of that but certainly we had broken team rules and it was very serious allegations,” he said.
Thurston’s wife Samantha also opened up on how she reacted to the allegations.
“It’s hard, like you said he wasn’t involved but he’s also said that he wasn’t surprised that the group sex had gone on because it happens in rugby league and so as a mum of three daughters I find that really difficult,” she said.
The phone call that rocked Thurston to the core
Thurston also opened up for the first time about the moment he found out his uncle had been murdered.
The North Queensland Cowboys legend was away on tour in 2008 for Australia when his partner Samantha called him to deliver the devastating news.
“Getting the phone call from Samantha that my uncle had been murdered in a park,” Thurston said.
“That was an extremely tough phone call to receive.”
Before Thurston could continue, he broke down in tears.
The incident happened over 10 years ago now, but Thurston said it was the first time he’s ever spoken about it publicly.
“I’m sorry, I’ve never spoken to anyone about it,” Thurston said.
“This is the first time I’ve spoken about it so it’s bringing all those memories back.”
Eight men were eventually jailed for the violent murder of Richard Saunders, while Thurston was in camp with the Kangaroos.
The rugby league great took it in his stride as he took the field just days later against Fiji, producing an incredible man of the match performance given the circumstances.
“He would have been up there smiling down, proud as punch,” Thurston said.