Martin to grow under JT
PENRITH great Greg Alexander believes Johnathan Thurston’s mentoring of Te Maire Martin can help him emulate Brodie Croft’s stunning rise under Cooper Cronk at Melbourne Storm.
Martin, 21, will make his Cowboys debut against Canberra tonight in place of Thurston after he was ruled out with a season- ending shoulder injury.
The five- eighth’s move from the Panthers could not have been more timely and he has the opportunity to cement the No. 6 jersey for the rest of the season.
Alexander was adamant Martin’s fall from grace at Penrith had nothing to do with Martin’s football ability, with Matt Moylan’s shift from fullback to five- eighth proving an instant success.
Martin will partner Queensland Origin hero Moylan in the halves against the Raiders, the sixth halves partnership the Cowboys have fielded this year.
But Alexander has no doubt Martin can forge a long first grade career and having a four- time Dally M medallist in his corner is a huge head start.
Martin had arrived in Townsville expecting to bide his time and soak up Thurston’s wisdom until his planned retirement at the end of next year, but JT’s injury has accelerated the timeline.
Thurston had successful surgery on his right shoulder on Thursday and faces a sixth- month recovery.
Former Junior Kangaroos skipper Croft has played just three NRL matches, but the young halfback has already proven he has inherited mentor Cronk’s composure under pressure by slotting the winning field goal in golden point against the Cowboys a fortnight ago.
“That ( Thurston’s guidance) will be great for Te Maire, we’ve seen what Brodie Croft has been able to do under Cooper Cronk,” Alexander said.
“While Te Maire may not have had the length of time Croft has had under Cronk, it will be terrific for him to have JT in his corner.
“It’s certainly no slight on his ability that Penrith let him go. The thought of ( developing) two young halves ( with Nathan Cleary) was probably going to take longer than they really had.
“He’s very composed and very skilful, he likes to play at the line and I think he’ll have a long first grade career.
“He could be one of the really good halves in the competition if it all fits into place for him.”
Martin’s partnership with halfback Michael Morgan is the sixth halves combination the Cowboys have fielded already this year.
It is in stark contrast to the previous two seasons where, bar representative football and the odd minor injury, Morgan and Thurston have been mainstays.
Alexander believes Martin’s skill set can blend well with Morgan, who has found his feet as the main organiser after early teething problems when Thurston was sidelined with a calf injury.
“Judging by the last few times he’s played halfback, I think they’ll be a good combination,” Alexander said.
“I thought Morgan was very good last week against Penrith, he had plenty of touches and asked questions of the defence.
“The Cowboys can’t win the competition without Johnathan Thurston, but it doesn’t mean they can’t still have a successful year without him, get into the finals and challenge some teams.”
Cowboys assistant coach Todd Payten coached Martin at Wests Tigers and tried valiantly to sign him in 2015, before he opted to go to the Panthers.
“I pushed very hard to get him,” Payten said.
“The first time around we went out for dinner when he came up and showed him around the club but he chose to go to Penrith.
“But I’m very grateful he’s here now and it’s proven to be an astute signing.
“The kid is super talented. I had a bit to do with him at the Tigers as he was coming through and I was really excited about his prospects then.
“The last six to nine months haven’t been great for him, but since he’s been here I’ve seen his confident shoot back.
“We’ve got seven weeks until we’re coming into finals, it’s ample time to get some combinations and I think he’ll be fine.”
Former Maroons five- eighth Ben Ikin says the only person who can decide whether Martin is Johnathan Thurston’s long- term successor is the man himself.
“Having JT around ( will help) and the system is important, which includes the players you play alongside, but ultimately it’s up to you,” Ikin said.