His liaison with captain Wayne 'Buck' Shelford was synonymous with North Harbour's rise. The union got support to go it alone as Auckland's growth reduced the chances of North Shore players having a shot at first-class rugby.
Thorburn was born in Auckland on March 19, 1939, and attended Mt Albert Grammar School.
A No8, he played 40 games for Auckland from the North Shore club. He made his Auckland debut in 1965 and played his last game in 1970.
But it was in the coaching field that he had his biggest impact. He was associated with North Harbour from its birth, taking the new provincial side through the process that required it to start in the third division and to work its way up to first division status in the original format of the National Provincial Championship.
His first stint as North Harbour coach was from 1985-91, while he had another year in 1997.
He was New Zealand Sevens coach from 1988-90 and again in 1993.
He was first appointed an All Blacks selector in 1992, serving two years with Laurie Mains as coach and fellow selector Earle Kirton. He was a selector again in 2000-01 with Wayne Smith as the coach.
Thorburn had a stint in British rugby as director of Rugby at Bristol from 2001-03. In 2006, he was appointed to the United States as head coach, taking the side to the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
Thorburn's contribution to North Harbour rugby was recognised when he was awarded life membership of the union in 2006. His service to rugby was acknowledged when he was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the New Year Honours of 2013.