Johnathan Thurston to remain in cotton wool for Nines

MEMORIES of Lachlan Coote going down with a season-ending knee injury 12 months ago in the inaugural Auckland Nines were always going to weigh heavily against North Queensland coach Paul Green playing superstar Johnathan Thurston in the club's title defence this weekend.

"At the end of the day, it just wasn't worth the risk," Green said after pulling the pin on Thurston's plan to take part in the razzle-dazzle tournament at Eden Park against the game's newest Golden Boot recipient Shaun Johnson (Warriors), Manly playmaker Daly Cherry-Evans and Rabbitohs premiership-winner Adam Reynolds.

"He's got the All Star clash (on February 13) and he will play most of our final trial against the (Gold Coast) Titans to prepare him well for the upcoming season."

While Thurston was withdrawn from the Cowboys' 20-man squad for safety concerns, given his importance to the club's premiership bid, teammate Kane Linnett's trip to Auckland was swiftly vetoed after he appeared in court in Townsville yesterday on a drink-driving-related offence.

"He (Linnett) would have been in our team, but because of what happened this morning unfortunately he is now not available," a disappointed Green said.

Green did stress the club had no issues with Linnett, however.

"It was a pretty poor choice on his part. It's disappointing and he's as disappointed as anyone else," the coach said.

Green said Linnett, who played all but one game in 2014, would be available for the club's trial games against the Broncos in Mackay on February 7 and Gold Coast Titans on February 21.

"He'll pay the price by missing out on the Nines and there are a couple of other things he has to do so he'd be pretty disappointed with himself," he said.

Meanwhile, a slight knee strain has forced Cronulla's NSW Origin star Luke Lewis out of the Nines, with Wade Graham assuming the Sharks' captaincy.

Likewise, the Gold Coast has also made a couple of late changes with the Holden Cup player of the year in 2014, halfback Kane Elgey, coming into the squad for utility Davin Campton (shoulder), while Matt White replaces prop Luke Douglas.

"It's a great opportunity for Kane to taste senior football and he has deserved his opportunity with his attitude in pre-season training," Titans coach Neil Henry said.

"He has been very committed in our opposed sessions and gives us extra options in the halves with Daniel Mortimer, Aidan Sezer and Christian Hazard, who will spend some time at hooker (relieving Kierran Moseley)."

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