David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

League: Johnathan Thurston to play at NRL Auckland Nines

Superstar North Queensland halfback Johnathan Thurston has been confirmed to play at next year's Downer NRL Auckland Nines at Eden Park.

Thurston will make his Nines debut and captain the Cowboys at Waitangi weekend, February 4 and 5, as they look to replicate their title win at the inaugural 2014 tournament.

His presence comes as huge coup for the fourth edition of the Nines, with the premiership-winning Cowboys, Queensland and Australian test playmaker the biggest name yet to feature in the short-form event.

Thurston's presence will be officially announced at a press conference at Eden Park today, but Cowboys management have guaranteed their chief playmaker will be a certain starter.

"The main reason we've decided to let Johnathan play is that he wants to play," said Cowboys general manager Peter Parr.

"He's achieved a lot in the game, he's achieved more than most players have in the game, but the one thing he hasn't done is play in this tournament. He's very keen to play so we've decided to let him do it."

The 33-year-old possesses the running, passing and kicking skills that make him perfectly suited to the open spaces and attacking nature of Nines.

After sitting out the first two tournaments, the four-time Dally M winner was in line to play this year, but his involvement was limited to competing in a goalkicking competition when he was rested ahead of the reigning premiers' World Club Challenge win over Leeds.

Thurston was yesterday named in the Kangaroos squad for next week's test against the Kiwis in Perth and following Four Nations campaign in the UK. He will have a reduced break over the summer.

Cowboys coach Paul Green said Thurston had been in his ear about playing in the Nines over the past three years and is confident he will make a big impression next season.

"Every year he's always put pressure on me, being that attacking style suits his game and I think he'd really flourish," said Green.

"Winning the inaugural tournament, I think the tournament holds a pretty special place in the club's history."

The Nines has previously hosted some of the game's best talent including Shaun Johnson, Sam Thaiday, Paul Gallen, Semi Radradra, Benji Marshall, Darius Boyd and Roger Tuivasa-Scheck.

League immortal Andrew Johns is excited by Thurston's confirmed attendance and believes it will encourage other star players to make themselves available for the Nines.

"It doesn't get any bigger," said Johns. "I think with Thurston putting his hand up, all the other stars will want to play for sure."

Organisers Duco Promotions are thrilled to have Thurston on board and believe his participation is a measure of the high regard the tournament is held in by players and clubs.

"To have the biggest star of them all say he's definitely coming to play is absolutely huge," said Duco's Trina Tamati.

"It's been no secret that he's been dying to play since 2014 and he's finally managed to get the club to agree to it.

"It says a huge amount about the tournament when you can get someone of his calibre and standing in the game to come out. It's big for the tournament and it's big for us."

- NZ Herald

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