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Fittler says Thurston will be in fine fettle for years to come

BRAD Fittler, as good a judge of a five-eighth as there is, says Johnathan Thurston is changing the way five-eighths play and is an even better player in that position than he was as a halfback.

Thurston only switched to five-eighth this season. He wanted to make the move in the wake of Darren Lockyer's retirement, and was duly accommodated by his club, North Queensland, and the Queensland and Australian selectors. It has been a great success, with Australia beating New Zealand in the Anzac Test, Queensland winning another State of Origin series and the Cowboys becoming a force again in the finals.

There is another reason for Thurston's continued rise at 29, when many players are on the slide. It's the return to top form of North Queensland fullback Matt Bowen, whose career was threatened by knee injuries before he fought his way through and back to his brilliant best. They may not wear capes, but Thurston and Bowen are the NRL's version of Batman and Robin - a dynamic duo who can shred the defence.

The pair will be the biggest dangers for Manly in tonight's elimination game at Allianz Stadium.

''I didn't play alongside anyone for as long as Thurston and Bowen have been together,'' Fittler said yesterday. ''I worked well with 'Lammy' [Adrian Lam] and 'Finchy' [Brett Finch] at the Roosters, and I had a nice combination going with Ryan Girdler at the Panthers, but those two guys have been together forever at the Cowboys and it shows.

''Bowen takes the pressure off Thurston, and when they combine they do it so well. They've got Michael Morgan coming along at halfback now, too, so the Cowboys have got another option. It's no surprise the team is doing so well, with those three players in form.''

Fittler said he had noticed a big change in Thurston's game since he switched to five-eighth. ''He's done a wonderful job of it,'' he said. ''He has changed the position, I think. I watched the Cowboys-Broncos game last week and in the first set Thurston had three or four touches. A conventional five-eighth wouldn't think of being that heavily involved in the first set. I think what Thurston has done this year is unbelievable.

''He has taken his involvement as a halfback to the other position. Playing five-eighth allows him to sometimes stand back a bit more and pick the time to take the attack to the opposition, but it doesn't take him long. He makes sure the other team doesn't get off lightly. He has found the role that works best for him. I can see something extra in his defence as well.

''He's always done his work there, but his defence has been outstanding this year. Whether he has worked harder on his defence, or put more focus on it, I don't know, but his involvement has increased, the same as with his attack. Thurston is an even better player now than he was as a halfback - his work rate is incredible.

''I usually found, when I was playing, that players petered out as they got closer to the retirement years … But, the way Thurston is going, I expect his best years are still to come, even though he's nearly 30. I reckon he'll keep going the way he is for a few years yet.''

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