Warriors amongst likely suitors for Thurston
OPINION: There is a scrap brewing that is likely to dominate the talk throughout a good chunk of the 2013 National Rugby League season.
It will have little to do with what is happening on the field but will be about meetings held behind the scenes as to why this headline-creating side story is about to take off.
When you talk marquee players in rugby league at the moment - who can change an NRL club almost on their own - there are probably five names that stand out: Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith, Greg Inglis and Jonathan Thurston.
Of those five players, only one does not have his future relatively secure with an NRL club. That is Thurston, whose contract with the North Queensland Cowboys will end after the 2013 season.
Although the 2012 season hasn't yet started, the NRL clubs are preparing to circle, and you can expect one of the hungry clubs smelling blood to be the New Zealand Warriors.
There will be a host of clubs in the queue for the Queensland five-eighth's signature but, when it comes to dollars and cents, it is hard to think of another club matching what the Warriors can, and probably will, offer.
The Warriors said publicly during their recent search that they were willing to pay what it took to get their man in their coaching department. That preferred man was understood to have been Craig Bellamy but, for whatever reason, it never eventuated.
It's not hard to work out that money is likely to be turned to chase Thurston's services for the 2014 season and beyond.
The Warriors have room in the salary cap to play with and also have cashed-up owners who could help in a big way with the third-party deal to get Thurston.
The key question will be whether Thurston would be willing to make a shift to New Zealand.
Former Warriors player and Kiwis international Thomas Leuluai is back at the club and looks set to wear the Warriors No 6 jersey this season. Youngster Carlos Tuimavave is also coming through the club's ranks as a standout in the five-eighth for the Warriors under-20 team in recent seasons.
However, though it is obvious he has talent, the jury still is out as to whether his future lies at five-eighth, centre or fullback.
Thurston would add plenty to the Warriors club, not just as a player but as a leader to the young team, which includes the promising Shaun Johnson in the No 7 jumper.
With most of the superstar players locked in for the next couple of years, the Thurston topic is going to be a hot one.
From left field this week, another stick has been rammed into the NRL spokes and now alongside the soon-to-be-available Thurston is former Queensland and State of Origin centre Israel Folau.
He was always predicted to re-enter the NRL market after his stint at playing AFL, but his decision to quit AFL this week has meant that suddenly his services are up for grabs much earlier.
Folau is without a job and, with Thurston, will provide the two most sought-after signatures.
The Warriors could make themselves a contender for Folau as well but it seems the Parramatta Eels are the frontrunners. They are understood to have made a big play at getting New South Wales centre Michael Jennings from the Penrith Panthers for the 2013 season, which would allow Penrith to free up some money in the salary cap to go after Thurston next year.
Penrith, however, want to keep Jennings and the focus from the Eels appears to have switched to getting Folau.
- © Fairfax NZ News