Born in Brisbane, Queensland, to a Gunggari (Indigenous Australian) mother and a New Zealand-born father. He began playing rugby league at a very young age for Souths Sunnybank RLFC in Brisbane's southside. At 12 years of age Thurston signed a scholarship deal with the South Queensland Crushers. Later during his youth he moved to Toowoomba where he attended St. Mary's College, playing rugby league for the school and the Toowoomba Rugby League's All Whites club. Although a stand-out player at school and club level at 18 years of age, none of the National Rugby League clubs were willing to sign the Queenslander with many citing his small size as a problem. According to Thurston's manager, Sam Ayoub, a number of the clubs were not even willing to take him for free. Only St George Illawarra Dragons coach Nathan Brown was willing to sign him because he was going to play for nothing. Ultimately, Ayoub negotiated with the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs to sign him as he had promised Thurston's mother he would keep an eye on him, and Belmore (the Bulldogs' home ground) was closer to where he lived. The Bulldogs eventually signed Thurston in the 2001 NRL season for 'nil playing fee'. Once Thurston had the opportunity he was selected for the Queensland U-19 side that year.