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The story behind the real 'JT'

There’s been no shortage of rugby league icons sharing the initials ‘J.T’.

You may automatically think of North Queensland legend Johnathon Thurston, or maybe former player-turned-coach Jason Taylor.

However, for the nib Newcastle Knights, there is only JT who deserves the status as the Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T).

It is, of course, team manager John Thomas.

Thomas is entering his 30th season in the red and blue, with the 75-year-old occupying a role of some kind for almost the entirety of Knights history.

Rugby League has been his life-long passion, dating back to his days managing his son’s under 8s team in the early 1980s.

“I started at Valentine in 1981, managing my son’s under 8s side,” Thomas said.

“From there I kept going through, finishing up as secretary for around ten years, from 81 through to the 90s.

“I was also treasurer for the Newcastle Schoolboys for 25 years, while I was doing Valentine and the Knights.”

In just the Club’s fourth year of existence, Thomas landed a role as the team manager for the under 16s team, beginning a journey which is still continuing today.

“The Newcastle League used to look after the Harold Matthews, and Keith Onslow and David Waite offered me the job managing the Matthews in ’91,” Thomas said.

“I stayed with them until about 2000, then I was doing the SG Ball.

“I got doing the timekeeping for first grade, and then in 2003 Michael Hagan asked me to manage the first-grade team, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Thomas has seen and known almost every player to pass through the Knights system and has no doubts as to who the best he’s ever seen is.

“There’s only one bloke. Andrew Johns.

“He and Matthew just complimented each other, put it that way.”

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“There’s a couple of other players who really impressed me. Steve Simpson and Ben Kennedy were very good tough players, Matt Gidley as well.

“But one of the funniest blokes and best blokes who played here was Brian Carney.”

A former coalminer, Thomas is one of the most familiar and loved faces among both staff and players anywhere inside Knights HQ. This was formally recognised when he was named Clubman of the Year at the 2018 Danny Buderus Medal awards night.

He remains a close friend of a number of ex-players due to his commitment to supporting them, both while they are at the Club and in some cases, after they’ve moved on.

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"Kurt Gidley and Danny Buderus are two guys I really connected with," he said.

"They were both terrific players and even better blokes."

In the case of flying winger Akuila Uate, Thomas played a major role in his development into an Origin and Test star.

“This story’s been told a bunch of times, but ‘Aku’ had trouble when he first got to first grade getting to training on time,” Thomas said.

“The players would have to do penalties because he was late, so I used to ring him up when I was leaving home to make sure he was up and getting to training on time.”

Seeming as Uate would go on to become the Club’s all-time highest try scorer, the Knights can count themselves lucky to have a manager as hands on as ‘JT’.

Entering his 30th season with the Knights, there is perhaps nobody more qualified to give an assessment on where the Club could finish in 2020.

“I’m excited about the team today,” he said.

“I’m very excited about the way they’re training, and their attitude has been excellent.

“I think we should finish reasonably well.”