COOPER CRONK is no Tommy Raudonikis. He’ll resist the temptation to intimidate Johnathan Thurston by hurling his luggage off a verandah, getting under the sheets of the big bed and demanding a flat white with a couple of sugars. The Storm’s in-form No.7 will state his Test selection case more subtly – and Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens has opened the door a crack by revealing Thurston’s incumbency will count for nil after Australia’s opening game of the Four Nations tournament.Sheens yesterday indicated every incumbent in Australia’s powerhouse 24-man squad will play the first match against New Zealand next weekend. After that, he runs out of promises.”You have to keep proving you deserve your Australian jumper,” Sheens told the Herald .”I haven’t actually said that to the squad yet, but I will. That is the challenge I will be putting to them.”Australia depart for their tour of England and France tomorrow with a healthy dose of intrigue surrounding the No.7 jersey. Thurston is clearly entitled to retain his jersey but having fallen short of piloting North Queensland into the finals, he’s desperately shy of match toughness. Cronk is running on momentum and sky-high confidence after a five-star grand final performance for Melbourne and could receive an opportunity if Thurston is out of whack in Australia’s first assignment against New Zealand.”To me, the selection process comes around game by game,” Sheens said. ”Certainly that first game is going to be important. If you play well, you’ll be rewarded. If not, we’ll see. It’s a strong squad and it’s healthy for us to have competition. There’s not much between any of the blokes here. We’re not talking about first-graders and second-graders. They’re all Test-class players. I expect the guys outside the top 17 to put a lot of pressure on as the series progresses. Cooper has trained well and been in good form. I’ll be looking hard at everyone at training and in that first game. I can’t say to the incumbents, ‘You’ve played well for Australia in the past so that guarantees you this or that.’ They have to play well every game.”Cronk is talking down his chances of usurping Thurston. At some stage, his fellow tourist/sparring partner/rival will undoubtedly talk up his fear of losing his place. ”Thirsty has obviously had the job for a long time and done a great job,” Cronk said. ”All I can do is work hard and keep rolling the sleeves up. But I’ve got to be realistic, he’s been there a long time and never done anything wrong.”We’re good mates and I think it might help us both to become better players. It’s been two years since I played the only Test I’ve had and I’d like to think I’ve improved in a lot of areas since then. The competition between the whole squad is going to help us. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.”Cronk’s and Thurston’s mutual admiration society contrasts with more mule-headed past rivalries among halfbacks. The best of them was between Raudonikis and Steve Mortimer at a NSW Origin camp. Mortimer had replaced Raudonikis as the starting No.7. They were roomed together in Brisbane. On offer was one single bed and a double. Mortimer, according to legend, threw his bag on the bed and said words to the effect of: ”I’m the starting halfback, I’ll take the big bed.”Raudonikis, again according to legend, finished their introduction to camp by picking up Mortimer’s bag, walking out to the balcony and dropping it into the car park and suggested Mortimer get him a flat white with two sugars on his way back up – to the small bed.”Me and Thirsty are pretty good mates,” Cronk laughed. ”I don’t know who’s rooming with who – but there won’t be any bags going off any verandah.”
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