Photo: Scott Davis © NRL Photos

Battle for Cowboys Nines captaincy

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 Cowboys at the Downer NRL Auckland Nines in February.

Back rower Gavin Cooper has traditionally led the Cowboys in Auckland – and he's done the job pretty darn well. The rampaging 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 North Queensland NRL side since 2007 and led it to its 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."

Rivalry for this coveted position will likely be discussed this week with Thurston due to resume training with the Cowboys squad on Monday. Thurston 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 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]," said the Cowboys playmaker.

Having previously sat out the Nines due to his heavy commitments, Thurston once again committed he would be playing at the 2017 tournament and said it was great to have the chance to play 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," Thurston said.

"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."

Tickets to the Downer NRL Auckland Nines can be purchased at ticketek.co.nz/nines.

First published on NRL.com.