Nines INSIDER

• With Johnathan Thurston now back in Townsville after featuring in last night's NRL launch, there's a new clear number one favourite Cowboy in Auckland. It's the NZRL Rookie of the Year Jason Taumalolo who is leading the way in having his picture taken, signing autographs and chatting to the media. His growing popularity is something Taumalolo is taking in his stride and should help the Cowboys gain an even bigger supporter base in New Zealand. Jase's main problem today is finding enough tickets for his family and friends to come to Eden Park.mo

• Cowboys Nines skipper Gavin Cooper was rightly front and centre for the group photo shoot with this weekend's 16 team captains at Aetoa Square. Sitting beside him was a good mate from his Penrith days, Kevin Kingston, who has come out of retirement to play for the Panthers. The North Queensland and Penrith jerseys looked very similar so watch carefully when the two teams meet in the pool stage.

• The kick-off times for the Cowboys' three group games are: v Melbourne (Saturday 10.20am Qld time), v South Sydney (Saturday, 2.40pm Qld time), v Penrith (Sunday, 9.25am Qld time). All matches are live on Fox Sports or you can catch every game live with NRL Digital Pass.

• The Cowboys were out in full force at the NRL season launch. Not only did we have seven players on stage, the rest of the Nines squad and coaching staff were in their club suits in the audience. Also in attendance was supermodel Heidi Klum.

• Parramatta have joined the Cowboys at their hotel in Auckland – we shared with the Roosters last year. NQ shared their hour at the fan day with Manly giving our boys the chance to catch up with old teammates Jayden Hodges and Blake Leary. The friendly off-field interaction between players from the 16 teams is one of the highlights of the tournament.

• The NZ TAB has North Queensland as second favourites for the Nines at $9, behind the Warriors at $3.25.