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Thurston to jet in for Auckland Nines

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 5/10/2016 Angelo Risso

Johnathan Thurston has won two NRL premierships, 10 State of Origins, a World Cup and four Dally M medals.

So there's not much left on the rugby league legend's bucket list.

But the Cowboys playmaker says a maiden appearance at February's Auckland Nines was something he'd been chasing for three years.

The Cowboys won the inaugural title in 2014, but Thurston's only appearance to date has been restricted to a kicking tournament cameo in 2016.

However the 33-year-old announced on Tuesday that he would be heading across the ditch with his teammates to take part in the 2017 series.

All 16 NRL clubs will take part in 31 games across two days at Eden Park as they look to gear up for the 13-a-side season kick-off in March.

Thurston told reporters in Auckland he'd twisted the arm of club coach Paul Green to play and that he wanted to experience the Nines and hopefully nab another trophy before hanging up his boots in the near future.

"On the back of winning the 2015 Premiership, it was about the World Club Challenge and I missed out on the All-Stars because that was my main focus," Thurston said.

"Without the travel next year, I'll be excited to play in the Nines and I'll also be able to back up for the Indigenous All-Stars."

Green confirmed the Townsville-based club would welcome the presence of its premier player and captain in Auckland.

"Every year he's always put pressure on me, being that attacking style suits his game and I think he'd really flourish," Green said.

Thurston will take on local hero and Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson in next year's competition, after the electric Kiwi led his side to the 2016 final.

The Warriors have performed strongly since the tournament's inception, qualifying for at least the quarter-finals in each of its three years.

Johnson hoped his side could go one better in 2017 and lift the trophy in front of their home fans in Auckland.

He couldn't wait to put his wits to the test against one of the strongest league players of all time.

"You always like testing yourself against the best," the 25-year-old Johnson said.

"To have him show his face at a tournament like this is just going to increase the way we're putting rugby league in a good light."

For Thurston, the feeling was mutual.

He said Johnson was ideally suited to the Nines format with his quick-thinking, fleet-footed style.

"He's the reason people come through the gates - he's an entertainer," Thurston said.

Warriors hooker Issac Luke said speed was an important part of the Nines format but that playing the percentages was equally significant.

"You don't really shy too far away from the 13-man game," Luke said.

"Kick the ball down and chase it, defend it, and the more you win position the more you win the game."

The NRL has made $9 million through the competition in its three years, which it then distributes to clubs.

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