Aotea Square fan day © NRL Photos

North Queensland Toyota Cowboys Nines captain Gavin Cooper has “blamed” good mate Johnathan Thurston for shining the spotlight on the team ahead of the annual pre-season tournament in Auckland this weekend.

With the Cowboys in the mix for the trophy the team won in the event’s inaugural year, Cooper said Thurston’s presence – his first playing appearance at the Nines – had made it impossible for the team to fly under the radar this weekend.

“He spoiled it for us in keeping a low profile for the NRL Auckland Nines,” Cooper joked.

“But in all seriousness, we’ve got a good mixture of youth and experience in this side and I’m excited to see what some of our speedy outside backs can produce.”

Cooper fronted the Nines captains’ call on Friday morning to promote the event while his teammates later joined him at Aotea Square in downtown Auckland for a fans’ welcome.

Thousands of fans flocked to the space to meet their rugby league heroes as teams were rotated through the stations.

The Cowboys continue their Nines preparation today with a training session before pool matches against the Roosters and Raiders on Saturday.