RUGBY LEAGUE: Whichever of Shannon Boyd or Jake Trbojevic is named to play for the Kangaroos in this weekend's Four Nations final, they will have big shoes to fill.
Either one will get the nod from coach Mal Meninga for the clash against New Zealand at Anfield on Monday morning (12.30am AEST) as the replacement for Australia's spiritual leader, Sam Thaiday.
The veteran Brisbane Bronco has had surgery to repair fractures in his cheekbone and eye socket caused by a clash with James Graham during last weekend's game against England.
Johnathan Thurston said the 31-year-old's face had been "pretty smashed up” and had left the usual lovable larrikin "fairly distraught”.
"It is tough for him and the playing group,” Thurston said. "He is such a likeable character ... everyone gets along with him. He is the joker of the team.
"We're all saddened by his injury ... he has been a big part of this team for many years and has played over 30 Tests for the green and gold.”
Meninga said surgeons expected Thaiday to make a quick recovery.
"It is a common injury, that's the surgeon's words, but it obviously doesn't happen all that often in rugby league,” Meninga said. "It is a collision injury similar to car accidents and things like that.
"We are not quite sure what the outcome is yet but hopefully it's a pretty simple and ordinary operation.
"He will have plates in it and he will be able to travel straight away.
"It is a short recovery - he will probably be out tomorrow and he will come up to Liverpool for the game and then fly back to Australia with the rest of the team next week.”
In the meantime, the injury means Meninga is left with the decision to play either Boyd and Trbojevic in the 17.
"It's unfortunate for Sammy but we have the depth to cover (him),” Meninga said.
Whichever way he goes, the Kangaroos will start overwhelming favourites against the Kiwis.
Thurston is certainly hoping to end his fourth and final trip to the UK as an Australian representative a winner.
A 20-all draw with New Zealand in 2009 is the closest he and long-standing national teammates Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Greg Inglis have come to defeat in the 14 Tests they have all played there.
"It's certainly going to be my last tour here. It's something I've thought about a little bit, but my mindset is all about my preparation and getting myself right,” Thurston said.
"I've said already I will finish up from rep footy in 2017 but my focus is just about winning this match against the Kiwis.”
Thurston said he wasn't taking his trans-Tasman rivals lightly.
"Both teams know all about each other, a lot of us play together at club footy and we know how dangerous they are and they will say the same about us,” Thurston said.
"If we don't perform as well as we did against England then we could well lose.
"They are full of great players and ranked No.1 in the world but we want that prize.”
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