Johnathan Thurston’s imminent debut at five-eighth for the Indigenous All Stars in February will usher in a new age for the Kangaroos, Queensland – and possibly even the North Queensland Cowboys – as the two-time Dally M Medal winner looks to fulfil his ambition of following in the footsteps of Darren Lockyer.
Indigenous All Stars coach Laurie Daley confirmed today Thurston was looking to kick-start a new representative career in the No.6 jersey, beginning with the All Stars game at Skilled Park on February 4. Daley said he'd be happy to grant Thurston his wish, despite his personal preference that his captain remain at halfback.
“He has expressed a desire to play in the [No.] 6 shirt… he probably needs or is looking for another challenge in his football career to motivate him for the latter half of his career,” Daley told NRL.com.
“And what better way to do it than wear that ‘6’ jersey, who some of the greats in particular of Queensland have been before – Wally Lewis and Darren Lockyer.
“He is hoping to play for Queensland as a five-eighth but kick-start his representative career in the No.6 jersey in the Indigenous All Stars team.”
Although he would like to see Thurston remain in the No.7, Daley said he understood the move to pivot would answer plenty of questions and show fans what they could expect in future.
“The fans have voted for him as a five-eighth so it would be good to see him in that position – if in fact that’s where he plays – I think that he is certainly talented enough to cover both positions.
“I would probably like to see him play halfback but if the fans are looking to see what to expect from Johnathan Thurston in 2012 in the five-eighth position, it is probably a good opportunity for them to see him play in that role.”
In a far-reaching interview with NRL.com just weeks out from the close of Indigenous team voting, Daley revealed his excitement about the much-hyped and long-awaited centre partnership of Greg Inglis and Justin Hodges and the X-factor that new Eels halfback Chris Sandow (currently ahead of Jamie Soward and Scott Prince in voting for the No.7 jersey) could provide.
Tellingly, he admitted some failings in team preparations for this year’s match – lost 28-12 – which he vowed to address.
Daley also said he was looking forward to Sam Thaiday’s return to the squad after the Broncos’ workhorse missed this year’s game through injury.
Current voting, which is set to close at the end of the month, reveals a number of candidates in the mix who Daley is licking his lips at mentoring – including new buys Andrew Fifita (Sharks) and Jamal Idris (Titans).
Depth in the halves
“One thing about the Indigenous team is we haven’t got a lot of depth in other positions but in the halves we have got Chrissy Sandow, Scotty Prince, Jamie Soward… Benny Barba who could play there at a pinch as well,” Daley said.
“[As a coach] you have just got to let Chrissy play – he excited everyone with what he was able to bring to the table this year to South Sydney. He’s certainly very competitive and wears his heart on his sleeve. He is a guy that always gives 100 per cent.
“I think he will go out there and really represent his people strongly – he hasn’t been a part of this game before but I think he’ll know the passion that is required and he is a very passionate and emotional footballer.
“He won’t leave anything in the tank and I think he will be good for the group. He’ll bring plenty of energy and a positive vibe and go out there and play as well as he has done over the last couple of years.”
The focus for 2012
“I’ll put my hand up now – I didn’t really spend a great deal on defence last year I think I was probably more focused around what we wanted to do with the football and playing an attacking style of footy,” Daley admitted.
“But those numbers [65 missed tackles and 12 line-breaks conceded in the 2011 loss] are way too high. You wouldn’t win too many games with 68 missed tackles and so many line-breaks… obviously that’s something we have to fix up and we will fix up.”
Daley said making sure the side had good depth in the forwards was important.
“I’ll probably look to use guys like Joel Thompson from the Raiders, who I know plays out the backs but I see him in this team more of a guy that will play in the forwards,” he said.
“Young Nathan Peats from the Rabbitohs is another guy I am keeping an eye out on.
“I think we need some mobility and we also need to have a number of quicker men in terms of back-rowers – you don’t want to be too top-heavy.
“Last year was more on trying to play an attacking game of football – and that will still be the case this year – but obviously you have to try to control the football.
“We gave away penalties, we dropped the ball, and in the end fatigue just hurt us… if we can control the ball and get them to play to their potential I’m sure we can give the NRL All Stars a run for their money.”
Inglis & Hodges
Daley has his fingers crossed both key players emerge unscathed from the current Four Nations tour.
“Obviously that would be the perfect scenario – over the last couple of years we haven’t had all our best players available,” Daley said.
“We haven’t got the number of players in terms of depth to compete with the NRL All Stars so hopefully those guys will come through okay and they’ll be ready to rip and tear for the All Stars game.
“I haven’t had an in-depth conversation with [Inglis] but we have certainly touched base and I know he is certainly keen to be a part of it,” he said.
New role for ‘Presto’
Daley revealed Preston Campbell, the mastermind behind the All Stars concept who retired from rugby league this season, would become an ambassador for the Indigenous side.
“Presto will be on the Gold Coast and he will be involved in the team,” he said.
“He will be at the hotel and at training, just encouraging the boys but also getting out there in the community – he is such a fantastic role model for the Indigenous lads.
“He’ll speak to the guys in camp on what’s required of them and what it means to them and what it means to Preston to have this game up and running.
“Any role Preston wants to play, he will play.”
Thaiday, Idris & Fifita
Daley said Sam Thaiday’s return would be crucial after the Test back-rower missed this year’s game through injury.
“Sam is a good leader and that has been shown now with the elevation to the captaincy at the Brisbane Broncos after Darren Lockyer’s retirement, so he is held in high regard there… and I know the Indigenous boys really look up to Sam - we missed his presence last year both on and off the field,” he said.
“Plus the input he does have in that team environment, so we’re really looking forward to working with him. He is a winner; he has won premierships, he has played for Queensland and Australia – that type of experience is invaluable in a game like this.”
Daley said he was anticipating big things from Jamal Idris in front of his new home crowd after a mixed season in 2011.
“I think he would have been disappointed with his year… things probably happened quickly for Jamal and he may have taken things for granted somewhat,” he said.
“Obviously the first game of the year you like to put your best foot forward and show everyone what you are capable of doing, and Jamal knows what is required in this environment and he’ll go out there and play accordingly.
“To play on his new home ground first-up will be pretty special to him and he would want to show all the supporters up there on the Gold Coast that he has been a terrific pick-up for the Titans.”
Andrew Fifita’s possible inclusion also excites Daley.
“I think Andrew has a huge future in the game,” he enthused.
“He has had some issues in the past in terms of his weight, so he has had to keep that under control, but every time I have watched him play he has got the ability to beat tackles and beat men through sheer strength and brute force.
“And he can also create some second-phase play, which would be terrific for all the Indigenous boys. I’m really looking forward to seeing Andrew in the team – hopefully he’ll give us a presence up front.
“All big games are won or lost in the middle of the field and that’s an area that we don’t have a lot of depth in, so we need everyone fit and available and going out there and playing as well as they possibly can.”
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