Johnathan Thurston of the Cowboys Photo: Getty Images
North Queensland's plans to become the first team to win the Auckland Nines twice have been boosted by news that Cowboys star Johnathan Thurston will play.
The Cowboys won the title in 2014, but Thurston's only appearance to date has been restricted to a cameo appearance at this year's tournament in a kicking competition.
Thurston said he couldn't wait to take the field alongside his Cowboys teammates on February 4-5 at Eden Park.
"I had a small taste of the NRL Nines this year, and the atmosphere was simply incredible," Thurston said.
"I made up my mind right away that I would be back to play in the 2017 tournament - and hopefully lead the Cowboys to another Nines title.
"The guys who played in 2014 when we won it have all said just what an incredible experience that was - and it's something I can wait to find out for myself."
Johnathan Thurston Photo: NRL
North Queensland Cowboys coach Paul Green and general manager Peter Parr confirmed the club would welcome the presence of its premier player and captain.
"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.
"Winning the inaugural tournament, I think the tournament holds a pretty special place in the club's history."
Parr said Thurston's enthusiasm for playing had been a key factor in the decision to let him play.
"He's achieved a lot in the game, he's achieved more than most players have in the game, but the one thing he hasn't done is play in this tournament.
"He's very keen to play so we've decided to let him do it."
NRL Auckland Nines Tournament Details
The 2017 Auckland Nines returns to Eden Park on Saturday, February 4 and Sunday, February 5, 2017.
The two-day tournament kicks off the NRL pre-season schedule.
Tickets On Sale
Tickets for the 2017 NRL Nines are on sale from Thursday, October 6 through Ticketek. For more info go to: www.nrlaucklandnines.com
Eden Park, Auckland NZ Photo: www.facebook.com/NRLAKL9s
NRL Auckland Nines Fun Facts
• All 16 NRL clubs together in Auckland
• Featuring 288+ star players
• 31 action packed games
• 9 players per team, 9 minute halves
• NZ $2.6 million dollars + in prize money
2016 NRL Nines Highlights
Video: Fox Sports / YouTube