Mal Meninga.
Mal Meninga. Tony Martin

Thurston gets Meninga's guarantee

THE battle to play halfback for Queensland this season is far from settled, Maroons rugby league coach Mal Meninga has revealed.

Meninga said yesterday that it was down to a four-way stoush between Melbourne's Cooper Cronk, Manly and former Sunshine Coast rookie Daly Cherry-Evans, Parramatta's Chris Sandow and the Gold Coast's Scott Prince.

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"I've promised Cooper first crack and that's what will happen," Meninga, who was addressing a Former Origin Greats breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Pelican Waters, said.

Meninga insisted players did not own positions.

"Origin is too important for that," he said.

"They all know and understand that."

It was a different matter, however, for North Queensland Cowboys co-captain Johnathon Thurston - the man who would take the place of Broncos great Darren Lockyer.

Lockyer, the Australian captain, retired at the end of last season.

Meninga said he thought Thurston was a better five-eighth than halfback.

It was a big call. As a halfback, Thurston has been among the best players in the world for several seasons.

"He'll have a bit more space out wider," Meninga said.

"Johnathon played a lot of his early football at five-eighth, right up until he went to the Cowboys."

Meninga said he was looking forward to the State of Origin, but admitted he hoped the exchanges off the field between Queensland and NSW would not be as vitriolic this year.

Queensland will be aiming to score a seventh straight series win.

Meninga, who played with NSW coach Ricky Stewart at the Canberra Raiders, said he still counted Stewart among his good mates.

"We still talk ... just not as much during Origin," he said.

And Meninga's tip for the premiership?

"I still think Manly is strong, and after the off-season they've had, they will have something to prove," he said.

"Wests Tigers has a good roster, too."


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