He's rated by many as the greatest NRL player of all time and he has led his club for the best part of a decade, however playmaker Johnathan Thurston won't necessarily have a 'C' beside his name when he lines up for the North Queensland Cowboys at the Downer NRL Auckland Nines next month.

Back-rower Gavin Cooper has traditionally led the Cowboys in the short-form Auckland tournament and has proved himself more than capable of handling the leadership responsibilities.

Cooper was named in the 'team of the tournament' as he captained the Cowboys to the inaugural 2014 Nines title.

"He's been the captain of the Nines team for the last few years so we'll have to wait and see," said Thurston, who has captained the club's NRL side since 2007 and led the Cowboys to their maiden NRL premiership in 2015.


"He reminds me and the rest of the playing group all the time that he was the first captain to bring a trophy to the Cowboys. So we might have to paper-scissors-rock off to see who captains the team at the Nines."

Cowboys back-rower Gavin Cooper led the side to victory at the inaugural 2014 Nines tournament. Photo / Getty.
Cowboys back-rower Gavin Cooper led the side to victory at the inaugural 2014 Nines tournament. Photo / Getty.

Rivalry for the captaincy will be heating up again next week with Thurston due to resume training with the Cowboys squad on Monday.

The 33-year-old has been working hard on his fitness since the start of the year to ensure he is up to rigours of the NRL Nines at Eden Park on Waitangi weekend of February 4 and 5.

"I've been working on my fitness since the New Year making sure I'm up to scratch so the body is in good nick and I can play [in Auckland]," he said.

Having previously sat out the Nines due to his heavy commitments within the congested league season, Thurston reiterated his commitment to play at the 2017 tournament and is excited at the prospect of playing in Auckland.

"It doesn't matter who you talk to, all the boys really enjoy the (Nines) concept.

"It's a fun weekend. Being on the sidelines last year you could feel the atmosphere. It's exciting - the fans really get behind it and make it what it is.

"From all the reports you hear the boys have a lot of fun. Whoever you talk to from a lot of clubs, they always enjoy the weekend. It's the first time I'll be a part of it so I am looking forward to it."

With Thurston in the line-up the Cowboys can be expected to have plenty of tricks up their sleeve, however adherence to the game's fundamentals would be the ultimate key to success, Thurston believes.

"We'll be working on a few things. It will be my first time playing so I'm not exactly sure what to expect, but it's obviously an open style sort of game so hopefully we can turn around a little bit of ruck speed and play off the back of that.

"The basic fundamentals of rugby league still need to be applied - a good kicking game, field position and generating a bit of ruck speed and go forward - and if you can do that you'll be pretty successful."