Johnathan Thurston has 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 told 60 Minutes as he fought back tears.
“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.
Thurston also opened up on the 2004 Coffs Harbour rape scandal during his playing days at the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs – the club where he introduced himself to the game.
“I wish we came out and cleared our names straight away, because everything was consensual at the time,” Thurston said.
Thurston’s wife Sam also added to the response surrounding the incident, as the question was part aimed at her and how it affected their relationship when she’d found out.
“It’s hard, like you said, he wasn’t involved,” she said.
“But he also said that he wasn’t surprised that the group sex had gone on because it happens in rugby league.
“As a mum of three daughters I find that really difficult.”
Thurston said the hardest part about the whole scenario, even though he wasn’t involved, was the impact it would have on his daughters.
“It is quite difficult knowing that my daughters will probably see this when they’re older,” Thurston said.
“Having to sit down and explain to them my side of the story is going to be tough.”
Johnathan Thurston’s decorated rugby league career included 323 NRL games and premiership wins with the Bulldogs and the Cowboys.