Thurston vows to hold off Cronk - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Thurston vows to hold off Cronk

By Steve Jancetic 04/05/2011 06:49:52 PM Comments (0)

Australia's star-studded backline is set to be the main beneficiary of Cooper Cronk's challenge to Johnathan Thurston's standing as the Kangaroos' premier No.7.

Thurston claimed he felt anything but assured of selection for Friday's Test against New Zealand at Skilled Park after Cronk had ensconced himself with the Kangaroos during Thurston's injury-plagued 2010 campaign.

Having held a mortgage on the Australian halfback spot following the representative retirement of Andrew Johns in 2006, Thurston's frank admission that he had to prove himself again is sure to strike fear in the Kiwi defensive line.

"We've got some great halfbacks running around in the competition - Cooper did a wonderful job all last year, I know selectors like rewarding the incumbents, so I had that fear that maybe I might be on the bench," Thurston said.

"I didn't want to have my hopes up too high in case I was going to get very disappointed - it was like a debut again for me, just the excitement of being back in the squad.

"(Cronk's) one of the form halfbacks of the competition and there's no doubt in my head that I need to perform to be in the side."

Never is the danger more ever-present than this week, with Cronk earning a spot on the bench after Australia's regular super-sub Kurt Gidley suffered a shoulder injury on the eve of Test selection.

Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens is a massive fan of Cronk's playmaking ability, while his club combination with fullback Billy Slater and hooker Cameron Smith means there would be little change to the side's structure should Cronk ever inherit Thurston's position on a fulltime basis.

Of course there is the very real prospect Thurston and Cronk will soon run out side-by-side as Australia and Queensland's halves combination, with Thurston having already indicated his willingness to switch to five-eighth in 2012 with skipper Darren Lockyer retiring at the end of the season.

For now though Thurston's primary focus is getting Australia's backline firing - and if his most recent efforts in the green and gold are any indication, New Zealand's outside backs could be in for a long night.

Thurston engineered a stunning second-half onslaught in the 2009 Four Nations final against England, when the Australians piled on 32 points in the final half hour at Elland Road.

But Thurston is wary of a Kiwi side which has been building momentum over the past few seasons, declaring they deserved to be ranked No.1 after adding the Four Nations crown to their 2008 World Cup triumph.

"No doubt Australia have to play at their best to beat the Kiwis," Thurston said.

"In my eyes they're the number one nation in rugby league - if we're not on our game, or only 13 or 12 of us are on our game and four aren't, I believe that we will struggle to win the game."

Both sides will have their final training run at Skilled Park on Thursday, with the Kangaroos sweating on the fitness of Paul Gallen, who is yet to train this week due to a calf complaint.

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