North Queensland coach Neil Henry has scoffed at suggestions halfback Johnathan Thurston could be overlooked by Australia’s Test selectors when the side to take on New Zealand is named on Sunday.<br><br>Thurston, reportedly under pressure after an indifferent start to the 2009 season, is engaged in a tit-for-tat battle with in-form Gold Coast No.7 Scott Prince for a Kangaroos jersey with the Titans ensconced in the top four and North Queensland languishing in 10th.<br><br>But on the back of two successive wins and a man-of-the-match performance by the Cowboys’ chief playmaker against premiers Manly last week, Henry has denounced criticism of Thurston as premature and said he is a “must” to take on the Kiwis on May 8.<br><br>“I think JT has firmly answered his critics,” Henry told NRL.com today.<br><br>“That doesn’t surprise me at all but to be honest, the criticism was always going to be there – it happens every year.<br><br>“The Titans started the year well and we were one from five at one stage so we expected it.<br><br>“Whether it was warranted is a different story.<br><br>“I don’t think he was ever playing too poorly but people expect him to make a couple of line breaks every single game, which is just not possible.<br><br>“The problem for Johnathan is that the team hasn’t been playing too well and the forwards haven’t been going forward.<br><br>“What halfback can dominate when his forwards aren’t making ground?<br><br>“It’s not like Darren Lockyer who has had the luxury of being able to sit back a bit because his side have been playing well and Peter Wallace has stepped up to help.<br><br>“Johnathan was out there trying things and it was difficult for him, but I think over the past few weeks we’ve seen what he is truly capable of.”<br><br>The Cowboys have looked anything but the thrilling attacking side that finished third in the regular season two years ago but wins over Cronulla and Manly during the past fortnight appear to have boosted the club’s confidence following the disappointments of 2008 when they missed the finals altogether.<br><br>Henry said much of the pre-season had been centred upon starting afresh and putting the sins of last season behind them.<br><br>“No doubt there was a bit of a hangover from last year – they didn’t win too many games,” he said. “It was always going to take some time.<br><br>“Matt Bowen was a little bit tentative as you would expect after a long lay-off with injury and it’s only now that he is starting to handle the ball a bit more at second-receiver.<br><br>“And JT had a very short off-season with his World Cup commitments and shoulder surgery.<br><br>“He didn’t return to training until mid-January and was playing trials a month later so his season came around very quickly.<br><br>“Expectations are always high with him but I think people needed to be a little bit more realistic.”<br><br>Thurston has one more chance to remind selectors what he is capable of against a Parramatta side that is down and seemingly out following four consecutive losses and a mountain of off-field drama.<br><br>Henry, however, bristled at suggestions his side would start as favourites despite the Eels’ capitulations against Brisbane and the Bulldogs over the past two weeks.<br><br>“We’re not exactly setting the world on fire ourselves,” he said.<br><br>“Remember we’re still three from seven, we’re playing at Parramatta Stadium and we don’t have a great record there.<br><br>“Parra dropped the ball from the kick-off last week and were three from nine with their completions at one stage which isn’t the thing to do against Brisbane, but they also created plenty of opportunities and they have some dangerous players.<br><br>“Obviously they’ll miss Nathan Hindmarsh but we’ll miss Luke O’Donnell just as much – they’re both 80 minute players and similarly important to their respective sides.<br><br>“So we certainly won’t be going down there saying it’s a guaranteed two points.” <br>
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