Seaeagles want to beat Cowboys at their best

By LIAM FITZGIBBON

MANLY halfback Matt Orford hopes Johnathan Thurston plays in Saturday's NRL preliminary final, even though the Sea Eagles' NRL grand %final prospects will soar if the star Cowboys playmaker is rubbed out through suspension.

Thurston fronts the judiciary in Sydney tonight after being charged with a dangerous throw on Warriors centre Wairangi Koopu in last Sunday's 49-12 semi-final win.

If Thurston fails to beat the charge, the Dally M medallist will miss Saturday's match at the Sydney Football Stadium, leaving the Cowboys with little hope of overcoming the Sea Eagles without their best player and captain.

But Orford said yesterday he would be happy for the Sea Eagles to test themselves against a full-strength Cowboys side.

Asked if he would prefer to face North Queensland at their best, his opposite number seven Thurston included, Orford said: "Yeah, for sure.

"I think you want to play every team at their strongest and whatever happens, happens," he said.

Orford said Manly had resumed training yesterday on the basis that Thurston would play in the match. But even if the halfback is suspended, Orford said the Cowboys would still prove a stiff opposition.

"Nothing changes from our end," Orford said. "He's an important part of their team and he's in great form, so obviously he would be a great loss, but it's a bit tough ... on the rest of the guys in the team. I think they've all been playing well.

"They've come this far and whether JT is there or not, they're not going to give up that easy.

"They're really class players and (the forwards) have been playing their part and laying a platform for the likes of Thurston and Bowen.

"Our forwards have got a really big job ahead of them." Manly suffered a scare of its own yesterday with veteran backrower Steve Menzies struck by a virus.

The 33-year-old, try-scoring sensation is in doubt for the sudden-death preliminary final after missing Sea Eagles training.

Manly coach Des Hasler yesterday named Menzies on a seven-man bench and also named backrower Glenn Stewart and winger Chris Hicks, who are also in doubt for the match with ankle injuries.

Menzies is believed to be "laying low" in quarantine with the virus but Hasler was today confident he would recover in time to face the Cowboys.

Hasler rated Hicks and Stewart a better than 50-50 chance of playing.

The Cowboys have named Johnathan Thurston and Carl Webb to start the match despite question marks over whether they will play.



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