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Gavin Cooper faces a battle to retain his place in the Cowboys starting forward pack for Round 1. Copyright: Shane Wenzlick/NRL Photos

Three months after expressing his desire to take part, Cowboys superstar Johnathan Thurston says he appreciates why he once again won't be risked at the Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines this weekend.

The Cowboys became the 16th and final team to submit their 18-man squad on Tuesday with nine members of last year's victorious team returning to try and defend the title they won with a 16-7 victory over the Broncos in the final.

New recruits Justin O'Neill, Kelepi Tanginoa and Jake Granville will pull the Cowboys jersey on for the first time in Auckland but the risk of having their star playmaker injured has persuaded coach Paul Green to leave Thurston at home for the second straight year.

The pair decided a week ago that Thurston would not be making the trip, playing back-to-back games in a high-intensity format enough of a risk to err on the side of caution.

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"From all reports that I've heard it's a good weekend away but with those types of matches comes risk," Thurston told

"It's a high intensity, explosive type of game so you're running at a high rate pretty much the whole time so we didn't think there was a need for the risk of [an injury] possibly happening."

Green said he understood Thurston's willingness to take part in the two-day tournament but said the decision had to be made in the best interests of a long NRL season ahead.

"All players would like to experience it. Back when we had the Sevens, you don't want to risk anything unnecessarily but you also want to experience all parts of the game too and I can understand him wanting to play that," Green said.

The major shock in the Cowboys squad is the selection of 18-year-old back-rower Coen Hess, a giant of a young man who has already had one year with North Queensland's Holden Cup team.

"I’m treating this as an opportunity for some of our young blokes to shine," Green told the Cowboys website.

"There’s no pressure on results so that helps them to go out there and enjoy their footy and perhaps take a few risks.

"The format encourages you to throw the ball around a bit more.

"I think you’ll see some really good attacking flair and natural footy instincts from our side."

Cowboys Nines squad: 1 Michael Morgan, 2 Justin O’Neill, 3 Tautau Moga, 4 Kyle Feldt, 5 Matthew Wright, 6 Ray Thompson, 7 Robert Lui, 8 John Asiata, 9 Rory Kostjasyn, 10 Kelepi Tanginoa, 11 Gavin Cooper (c), 12 Ethan Lowe, 13 Jason Taumalolo, 14 Jake Granville, 15 Zac Santo, 16 Coen Hess, 17 Javid Bowen, 18 Ben Spina.

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