Injured Manly captain Daly Cherry-Evans and other Queensland players will need to be able to take part in every training session with the Maroons to gain selection for the opening State of Origin match at Suncorp Stadium on June 5.
Queensland coach Kevin Walters is determined to avoid a repeat of the disrupted preparation before last year’s series opener at the MCG in which Billy Slater was a late withdrawal with a hamstring injury, Josh McGuire had limited involvement due to an ankle problem and Michael Morgan had a stomach virus.
Walters was already grappling with the shock representative retirement of long serving captain Cameron Smith on the eve of the series, while Matt Gillett was sidelined with a neck injury.
The Maroons have already been hit by injuries and retirements this year, with skipper Greg Inglis quitting the game, Christian Welch (knee), Andrew McCullough (knee) and Jake Friend (biceps) already ruled out and Cherry-Evans not having played since injuring his ankle three weeks ago.
The Sea Eagles captain met with Walters in Brisbane during last weekend’s Magic Round and indicated he was hopeful of playing next Friday night’s match against Gold Coast but there is no requirement on him to have a hit out before the Queensland team is named.
However, once the Maroons enter camp Walters insists all players must be able to train from Tuesday May 28.
“That doesn’t worry me at all, if he does or doesn’t play before then,” Walters said. “Obviously it would be nice for him to play but the important thing is that he is able to train with us when we start our preparations.
“When we come into camp he will have to start training then, which he feels he is going to be back in time so we are very optimistic.”
“He understands that if he can’t train he won’t play. Last year we fell into the trap of having too many inured guys for round 1. We had four or five injured guys in the camp who weren’t able to train or do anything all week so we are not going to do that this year.
“Origin is one arena where regardless of who you are if you are not fit you are going to be exposed so we won’t put that pressure on anyone.”
Assuming he is fit, Cherry-Evans is expected to be the Queensland captain and will partner Melbourne five-eighth Cameron Munster at the scrum-base.
St George Illawarra halfback Ben Hunt is almost certain to be named at hooker ahead of North Queensland’s Jake Granville, with Walters feeling that Parramatta’s Reed Mahoney needs more NRL experience before he is ready for Origin.
Walters confirmed that Morgan was being considered for the left centre spot, with Corey Oates to be on the wing.
“That is a realistic choice for us, depending on how our other players come through,” Walters said of Morgan. “He is one of those guys that can play multiple positions and not just fill in but be very effective there as well.”
Kalyn Ponga is expected to be named as the Queensland fullback, with Will Chambers and Dane Gagai making up the right side centre-wing pairing.
In the forwards, the Maroons will be boosted by the return of Gillett, while props Jai Arrow and Josh Papalii have been in good form for Gold Coast and Canberra respectively.
Melbourne second-rower Felise Kaufusi and Josh McGuire, the North Queensland lock, are also expected to be in the starting pack.
“Queensland-based clubs probably aren’t where they want to be on the ladder but the players we are identifying are in pretty good touch individually,” Walters said. “The Storm are near the top of the table and we always draw heavily from the Storm, South Sydney have got some players we will be using.”