Testing time as star halfbacks square off
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.’’