Maroons State of Origin coach Mal Meninga
Maroons State of Origin coach Mal Meninga Mike Knott

Mal hints at second game for Dane

QUEENSLAND State of Origin coach Mal Meninga has given a strong indication that former Mackay player Dane Nielsen will retain his spot for the second clash with NSW in two weeks’ time.

Meninga and AFL personality Sam Kekovich were stars of the show at a sportsmen’s dinner at Souths Leagues Club on Saturday night attended by about 180 people, which raised funds for the Souths Sharks rugby league team.

Nielsen, a former Mackay Norths junior who now plays for Melbourne Storm, played his first Origin match in front of a sellout 52,000 crowd at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night, Queensland coming from behind in the last minutes to win 16-12.

“It was a tremendous debut,” Meninga said of Neilsen’s first game in a Maroons jersey.

“He rose to the occasion, enjoyed his time in camp and he played very well.

“It was an opportunity for him to put on a Maroons jersey, and any player who does that always does well.”

Meninga said with two rounds of NRL matches to go before the second game in Sydney on June 15, it was a little early to make calls on who would be in or out of the squad.

But with Greg Inglis and Justin Hodges battling to come back from injury and the Cowboys’ Willie Tonga suffering shoulder damage on Wednesday night, there appears a good chance that Nielsen will be retained in the centres.

“Willie is hurt also, so we’ve got to make some decisions once we get through the next two games,” Meninga said.

But Meninga indicated the selectors would remain loyal to the team that won Origin 1 and would be unlikely to bring in another former Mackay player, Bulldogs fullback Ben Barba.

“Ben’s going well, but it’s going to be hard to put him in because we won the football game,” he said.

“If all the players are fit and healthy, it’s hard to change a winning football side.”

Souths general manager Kingsley Theiber said it was a coup to get Meninga in Mackay the week after the first Origin match, and the audience was keen to hear inside information from the coach on the Queensland team.

“The feeling I got from Mal was that Dane has done enough to get across the line, I think he’ll retain his spot and Greg Inglis will go to the bench if he’s fit,” Theiber said.

“I think Mal believes that there will be a number of changes by NSW coach Ricky Stuart.”

It was the first time Meninga and Kekovich, a former AFL star who is known as the Lamb Ambassador after a series of advertisements supporting the lamb industry, have brought their show to Mackay, and Theiber said Souths was keen to bring them back next year.

“Mal and Sam were sensational and the auction of memorabilia raised several thousand dollars for the Souths seniors,” he said.

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