Exclusive Origin 2 chat with QLD selector Gene Miles
CHAMPION Melbourne Storm fullback Billy Slater remains a major injury concern for Queensland selectors who will have to sit nervously through another 640 minutes of rugby league over the weekend before handing Mal Meninga his 17-man squad for Wednesday week's must-win second State of Origin at Sydney's ANZ Stadium.
"Billy is obviously still doubtful with his shoulder but, in the past, he's shown he repairs quickly so we're quietly confident he'll play," Queensland selector and former Origin star Gene Miles told APN exclusively.
"Barring that, we've also got five guys involved in Monday night footy, which is a bit of concern because we haven't had to deal with anything like that over the last eight years.
"I can't see too many changes. Maybe a forced one here or there, but I'd think those 17 guys who put in such a massive effort, apart from Cooper Cronk, are likely to have their names read out on Monday."
NSW went 1-0 up in the best-of-three interstate series with a heroic, albeit costly 12-8 upset at Suncorp Stadium last month and can finally end an eight-year drought for long-suffering Blues' fans craving their first victory since 2005.
NSW selectors and coach Laurie Daley have their share of dramas following a brutal opening game with right centre Josh Morris (knee) already ruled out of the return Origin and twin brother Brett (shoulder dislocation) extremely doubtful.
There are also concerns over the fitness of Blues forward leader Paul Gallen, who continues to have scans on his neck after being the victim of a late tackle by Queensland's Josh Papalii in Brisbane.
A number of names, including Will Hopoate, Josh Dugan, Jack Wighton and Dylan Walker, have been tossed around to replace Josh Morris, who did an exceptional defensive job on Queensland dangerman Greg Inglis in Origin I. Penrith giant Josh Mansour is another player who has come under notice as NSW examines all its options.
The Maroons look in better shape, although they will have four players - Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker, Matt Gillett and veteran centre Justin Hodges - all playing in chilly Canberra on Monday night, along with Papalii, who will turn out for the Raiders against his Queensland teammates.
If Slater is ruled out, Inglis would shift to fullback with Will Chambers, who trained in the centres for most of Origin I camp when Hodges was under treatment for an ankle injury, coming into the centres.
It is highly unlikely Queensland selectors will make any changes to their squad, other than bringing Manly halfback Daly Cherry-Evans off the bench for injured Melbourne No.7 Cronk (broken arm) and the recall of 20-game veteran Thaiday, with either Chris McQueen or Gillett dropping back to the bench.
Talk of blooding Brisbane prop Josh McGuire would be too much of a gamble, given the fact Queensland will play away in front of a hostile NSW crowd starved for so long of an Origin series win in a game the Maroons must win.
A likely Qld 17
Billy Slater, Darius Boyd, Greg Inglis, Brent Tate, Justin Hodges, Johnathan Thurston, Daly Cherry-Evans, Matt Scott, Cameron Smith (c), Nate Myles, Sam Thaiday, Chris McQueen, Corey Parker. Interchange: Matt Gillett, Ben Te'o, Aidan Guerra, Josh Papalii.