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Weight off Thurston's shoulders and prized guernsey on them


Aug 5, 2004
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Weight off Thurston's shoulders and prized guernsey on them

A little rusty but no nerves … Johnathan Thurston is confident he can live up
to the faith shown in him by Ricky Stuart.
Photo: Paul Harris

Will Swanton
October 13, 2006

JOHNATHAN Thurston denies he is a selection gamble despite having played only twice since dislocating his knee in July.

Australia's underdone halfback can say it till he's blue in the face - and I can inform you that he does - but it's an undeniable fact that his match-starved preparation is an area of concern for the Australians ahead of tomorrow night's Tri-Nations Test. If Thurston ain't rusty, he ain't human.

"You can't compare anything to match fitness, everyone knows that, but my fitness levels are fairly high so I'm not really worried about it," he said.

Thurston was anxious when he arrived in camp last weekend: fidgety, furrowing his brow and quieter than usual - which is saying something, because Wally Lewis's statue is often more talkative. Thurston was distracted because he had someone on his mind: Ben Hornby. He knew Australian coach Ricky Stuart was leaning towards the match-sharp Dragon as his halfback, and the worry was doing his head in.

Thurston was training well, but not that well. The squad left Coogee and arrived in Auckland. Another training run, and Thurston remained troubled. When the time came to choose his halfback, Stuart consulted assistant coach Allan Langer. Between them, they know a thing or two about No.7s. He sought the opinion of Australian captain and five-eighth Darren Lockyer. Stuart announced his team. Thurston was in, Hornby was out. That's when Stuart believes he saw the load lift from Thurston's shoulders.

"Nah, I don't think I'll be rusty," Thurston said. "Footy is just second nature to me. I've been very comfortable at training and hopefully that will continue into the game. I don't put pressure on myself to perform, so I'm not feeling any pressure. But I was very nervous about missing out. The only thing I had going for me was probably Origin, and that was six months ago. I've missed a fair bit of footy. I was twiddling my thumbs and hoping I would get the nod ahead of Benny. I just sat up the back, fingers crossed."

Stuart was spinning the same line. Rust? What rust? "Time will tell," he said.