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All five State of Origin players have been named in the starting line-up for the Bulldogs clash with the Penrith Panthers at Panther Stadium on Saturday night and another Bulldog rookie, 19 year-old Jonathan Thurston, will make his debut.
The game will also see Steve Reardon return after missing the past two games with a shoulder injury and Glen Hughes will sit out the game after taking an early plea for a careless high tackle. Darrell Trindall, Glenn Hall, Adam Perry and Dennis Scott all return to first division.
Thurston was recommended to the Bulldogs midway through last season by the son of CEO Bob Hagan on the back of some outstanding performances for the All Whites in Toowoomba's A grade competition. He made an immediate impact at five-eighth in the Bulldogs Jersey Flegg premiership side and was subsequently named as one of five rookies to join the first grade squad in their trial games and pre-season camp. In the trial against the Brisbane Broncos in his hometown in February Thurston scored four tries in the second half to help the Dogs to a 66-20 victory.
Thurston has spent this season in the undefeated first division side and Bulldogs coach Steve Folkes says his form warrants a start in a team facing a tough challenge at Penrith.
"Jono has been playing some good football and deserves to be tested at the next level. I have no doubt he'll live up to expectation," Folkes said. "The Panthers out there on a Saturday night are going to be tough. If we hadn't scraped ahead of them last time we met they could be on a four game winning streak so we're going to need some big improvements on the way we've been playing over the last month if we're to get the right result."
D.O.B: 25.4.1983 Height: 185cm Weight: 75kg Position: Five-eighth Rep honours: QLD Under 17s, QLD Under 19, NSW Under 19s
1. Luke Patten 2. Hazem El Masri 3. Nigel Vagana 4. Willie Talau 5. Matt Utai 6. Braith Anasta 7. Brent Sherwin 8. Mark O'Meley 9. Corey Hughes 10. Steve Price 11. Darren Smith 12. Jamie Feeney 13. Travis Norton
14. Willie Mason 15. Jonathan Thurston 16. Steve Reardon 17. Paul Rauhihi
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