JT in 'negotiations' for Nines start
He has declared his intentions to be a part of North Queensland's Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines title defence from January 31 but Cowboys coach Paul Green insists Johnathan Thurston is yet to be given the green light to take his place.
Thurston was not considered for the Cowboys' team in 2014 due to the late finish of the Rugby League World Cup and despite being ruled out of the Kangaroos' Four Nations squad with a shoulder complaint said in Auckland in November that he'll "be right to play" the Nines.
But speaking from Cowboys HQ on Tuesday, Green tempered any excitement by emphasising that the club won't be taking any unnecessary risks ahead of another arduous NRL season.
"That's still in negotiations at this stage," Green said of Thurston's availability. "I haven't decided yet; we'll see how he is once it gets a bit closer but I won't be taking any unnecessary risks.
"Our main focus is the NRL season; as I said, it's a great event, it's a really good weekend but our main focus is the NRL season.
"I thought they did a great job with it last year. For us, winning it made the weekend so much more enjoyable and once we get a bit closer I'll look a bit more closely at who we will be taking but certainly the guys who were there last year will get first crack at it and whatever team we put out on the paddock we'll be trying our best in every game."
James Tamou (injury), Tariq Sims and Curtis Rona (both no longer at the Cowboys) will be missing from the squad that won the inaugural Nines crown but Tamou is looking more and more likely to be fit for Round 1.
The Origin and Test front-rower had neck surgery in the off-season stemming from a knock he took against the Bulldogs in July last year. Initial reports suggested he could be missing for as long as nine months but he, Matt Scott (shoulder) and Scott Bolton (shoulder) are all on course for the first game against the Roosters on March 7.
"They're not in full training but they're certainly on track and hopefully they'll all be right for Round 1," Green said of the experienced trio. "It's still a long way off yet and a fair bit of work for those guys to do before we get to that point but certainly tracking where they should be.
"We need to get off to a good start and those guys in particular with the rep experience they've had – and even 'Bolts' has been around the club for a number of years now – so it's important those guys are around to give the young guys a bit of leadership and a bit of confidence."
The Cowboys won just two of their first seven games last season and although they progressed to Week Two of the Finals Series having finished fifth on the ladder, Green knows the importance of a strong start, particularly with three of their first four games being played at home.
"For us it's just about being consistent. I thought at the back-end of the year we were one of the most consistent teams in the competition so it's about starting off at that sort of level for us.
"If you can bank some wins early it just takes the pressure off given the players we have out during that representative season, the Origin period through the middle. It just makes life a little bit easier through that period if you can bank some wins early. It's certainly what we want to do."