Australia know they will have to do without the services of half-back stalwart Johnathan Thurston for the upcoming Four Nations, and the question surrounding Tim Sheens’ squad has been whether or not the Kangaroos will be able to cope without the 31-year old. On the back of being awarded the NRL’s player of the season for the third time, Thurston had been expected to play a key role in the defending world champions’ hopes in the upcoming Four Nations.
A shoulder problem sustained playing for the North Queensland Cowboys on the club’s way to the NRL Finals has ruled Thurston out for as long as two months, robbing Australia of one of their most important players for their Four Nations campaign. Thurston was a crucial member of the Australian team that romped to the World Cup trophy in 2013, finishing the tournament with four man-of-the-match awards from just four appearances. The Kangaroos have won a remarkable 93.3% of games in which Thurston has played, and Australian fans are rightly concerned about the impact the loss of the Cowboys star will have on them.
“It was a really difficult decision to have to make but in the end, the doctor really took it out of my hands when I saw him yesterday. You never want to miss playing rep footy, and I’m very proud of my record in that area, but this time there’s no other option,” said Thurston.
Thurston’s injury has hit the Kangaroos hard but it has opened the door for a number of fringe players for try and cement their place in the team. Broncos star Ben Hunt, Roosters half-back Mitchell Pearce, Raiders’ Jack WIghton and Newcastle Knights’ Kurt Gidley are all now in contention for starting the tournament in the half-backs in place of Thurston, although Canterbury Bulldogs Luke Keary is still a possibility.
Head coach Tim Sheens has been hit with a number of injury blows in the run-up to naming his Four Nations squad, with backs Billy Slater, Barius Boyd and Brett Morris all ruled out of the tournament alongside forwards Matt Scott, Nate Myles, Paul Gallen and James Tamou all absent from the Australia squad for the tough series. While a number of younger players will now have a chance to represent their country, the loss of so many key players has had an impact on Australia’s pre-tournament bet365 betting odds.
Sheens has just a matter of days to finalise his plans before the Aussies open their tournament up against New Zealand in Brisbane on October 25, before taking on the challenges of England and Samoa in what looks set to be a fascinating event. While the All Blacks will provide their usual threat, England and Samoa are two teams that can’t be ruled out by the big two. England are packed with Super League talent, and Samoa have improved year-upon-year and had to come through a tough play-off against Fiji to book their place in this year’s Four Nations tournament.