North Queensland Cowboys coach Todd Payten has lifted the lid on the role club legend Johnathan Thurston played in keeping him away from the club.
In his NRL playing days, Payten was a member of the Wests Tigers squad that famously defeated Thurston's Cowboys in the 2005 NRL grand final.
That loss clearly stung Thurston more than most, and Payten says it's a huge part of the reason why the legendary playmaker opposed the Tigers man's move to North Queensland as an assistant coach.
It was almost 10 years later when the Cowboys enlisted the services of Payten as an assistant, with Thurston undeniably the team's best player.
However, in an interview with Matty Johns, Payten revealed that Thurston did his best to try and block the appointment of his grand final nemesis.
“A funny story he (Thurston) didn’t want me at the club,” Payten said on Face-to-face with Matty Johns.
“Obviously we had a history, Tigers vs Cowboys in the 2005 Grand Final.
“Peter Parr brought it up with Johnno and he said, no way he is not at our club.
“In the end he had to be talked around and I’m grateful that they talked him around.”
Payten says it wasn't bitterness from Thurston that stood in the way of his move to the Cowboys, rather the playmaker's extraordinary competitive nature.
“No, it wasn’t bitter,” Payten said.
“It just typifies the type of competitor Johnno is. He doesn’t like to lose.
“I’d run across Johnno at different times in different places and he was always a decent fella to talk to, but losing grand finals is hard to get over.”
Todd Payten and Johnathan Thurston shared in NRL premiership
Payten - who is currently overseeing an incredible season as head coach of the second-placed Cowboys - did actually make the move as an assistant with North Queensland, where he shared in a period of great success alongside Thurston.
“It was enjoyable,” Payten said of coaching Thurston and the Cowboys of that era.
“I was a little bit gun shy with Johnno (Thurston) at first. He was one of the best players in the world and my thought process was, how am I going to tell him what to do?
“But after a while he pulled me aside and said, mate tell me the truth, I want to know.
“That’s when I worked out that the elite players want to be coached and they want some information.
“He put me at ease with that.”
Payten's move to the Cowboys an assistant in 2015 coincided with the North Queensland club winning its inaugural NRL premiership that same year.
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