Johnathan Thurston.
Johnathan Thurston. JULIAN SMITH

Thurston backing ARL stance

RUGBY LEAGUE: Superstar Johnathan Thurston has thrown his support behind the ARL Commission's decision not to grant controversial pair Andrew Fifita and Semi Radradra a Kangaroos jersey.

Both were left of of Mal Meninga's squad to play New Zealand in a one-off Test before heading to England to contest the Four Nations.

Premiership-winning Shark Fifita is being investigated by the NRL integrity unit after writing a message of support for convicted killer Kieran Loveridge on his wrist strapping, while Paramatta Eel Radradra is awaiting trial on domestic violence charges.

The Rugby League Players Association had expressed concern over their omission, but the Cowboys skipper has backed the decision.

"It's a stance the game is taking, we want to see more people and fans come through the gates and more people watching our game,” Thurston said.

"If the game feels as though that's the best decision to make, then as a senior player I fully appreciate what the game is doing and stand up for that.”

Thurston was speaking at the launch of the Auckland Nines, which he will take part in for the first time next year.

Though the Cowboys won the title in 2014, his only contribution has been taking part in a kicking competition this year.

"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.”

No team has won the Auckland Nines twice and Cowboys coach Paul Green said he too was happy his star man would play a part in trying to win a second title.

"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.”

Local hero Shaun Johnson - who led the Warriors to the 2016 final - said he was determined to go one better after finishing runners-up last year.

"Making it to the final this year in front of our home fans was an awesome buzz,” he said.

"Obviously it was a real let down not to go the whole way, but we are determined to go one better in 2017.

"That won't be easy when you look at the talent the other clubs have on offer. I'll admit I'm excited to see JT play - he'll put on a show.”

The Auckland Nines will take place on February 4 and 5 next year at Eden Park.