Test­ing time as star half­backs square off

Townsville Bulletin - - NRL - by Michael Thompson michael. thompson@ townsville­bul­letin. com. au

THE battle for the j u mper s t a r t s a t Sta­dium tonight.

North Queens­land Cow­boys half­back Johnathan Thurston pits the skills that have made him a Test and State of Ori­gin star against in­cum­bent Test play­maker Cooper Cronk when the Cow­boys clash with the Mel­bourne Storm.

Not only will their in­di­vid­ual duel play a piv­otal part in tonight’s out­come, it prom­ises to place the su­pe­rior per­former in the box seat to claim the Test half­back po­si­tion.

With less than two months un­til the Kan­ga­roos meet New Zealand, there’s lit­tle doubt the competition for the cov­eted role be­gins now.

‘‘ Play­ing against each other is ob­vi­ously a big oc­ca­sion for them,’’ Mel­bourne coach Craig Bel­lamy said. Aus­tralian No. 7 Dai r y F a r mer s ‘‘ They’re both won­der­ful com­peti­tors and which­ever way ( the se­lec­tors) go no one is go­ing to lose out.’’

But Bel­lamy drew a line on call­ing tonight a de­ci­sive au­di­tion for the Test jumper.

‘‘ I think they’ve got to play eight or nine rounds of footy be­fore the Aus­tralian side is picked, so I think it’ll be more an av­er­age of what they’ve done for those eight or nine games,’’ Bel­lamy said.

‘‘ I don’t think those po­si­tions will be de­cided on one game.’’

While Thurston and Cronk will play out the night’s most in­trigu­ing one-onone con­test, Bel­lamy was also look­ing for­ward to an­other of the game’s in­di­vid­ual bat­tles.

‘‘ I guess we haven’t re­ally spo­ken about Matty Bowen and Billy Slater at the same time for the last cou­ple of years be­cause Matty’s had a few in­juries, but they’re two of the real qual­ity full­backs in the competition,’’ Bel­lamy said. The Storm tonight will be aim­ing to join the Bull­dogs as the NRL’s only un­beaten teams af­ter three rounds.

The vis­i­tors held a train­ing session at the Townsville Sports Re­serve yes­ter­day af­ter­noon in front of a small con­tin­gent of lo­cal fans, shortly af­ter the Cow­boys had prac­tised at the same fa­cil­ity.

In omi­nous news for the Cow­boys and their fans, Cronk looked in ex­cep­tion­ally good touch as did Billy Slater and Cameron Smith.

While Mel­bourne’s ‘‘ big three’’ have been in blis­ter­ing form this sea­son in the wins over Manly and Gold Coast, Bel­lamy will be keep­ing a watch on what he con­sid­ers North Queens­land’s equiv­a­lent tri­umvi­rate.

‘‘ Cer­tainly we’ll be keep­ing an eye on Thurston, Bowen and ( Aaron) Payne, they can cause some havoc. But they’ve also got some big for­wards too that can make good me­tres if you don’t de­fend well.’’

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