Meninga backs JT to take No.6
QUEENSLAND coach Mal Meninga has annointed Johnathon Thurston as the man to fill Darren Lockyer's shoes in the famous Maroons No.6 jersey.
Meninga joined forces yesterday with State-of-Origin rival Ricky Stuart in a round of golf at the Horton Park course in Maroochydore, as part of an auction prize from a 2011 fundraiser at the Alexandra Headland surf club for the Compass Institute.
Speculation has been rife for months since Thurston expressed a desire to move to five-eighth that he and Melbourne Storm halfback Cooper Cronk would be the halves pairing for this year's series.
Despite pundits such as Maroons legend Wally Lewis saying he would leave Thurston at half-back and find a replacement five-eighth, Meninga said it was logical to move the Cowboys playmaker given he would be playing No.6 for his club.
"Thurston will play six. I'd be silly not to play him there," Meninga said.
"And Cooper definitely has the inside running for the seven."
While Thurston and Cronk are the first option, Meninga said the Maroons had plenty of back-up through players such as Daly Cherry-Evans and Chris Sandow if something went wrong.
One player who will not be involved as the Maroons shoot for a seventh consecutive series win is Parramatta centre Esi Tonga, paying the price for missing curfew and the final day of an emerging players training camp in Brisbane last weekend.
Meninga said he had discussed the situation with Tonga this week and everyone had moved on.
"He admitted it and it's been dealt with," Meninga said.
"He's out of the emerging players squad, but we haven't put a time limit on that.
"I've spoken to (Parramatta coach) Stephen Kearney and they've dealt with it as well. Esi has been training well at Parra and everyone hopes he has a good season and takes advantage of his opportunities."
NSW coach Stuart said people should not read anything into the fact the Blues had 23 players in their emerging Origin squad, while Queensland had just 14 (13 without Tonga).
"Last year we had 40," Stuart said.
"We're just looking at the amount of people we need to expose to what Origin is about."