New South Wales on the cusp of firsts series victory in eight years.
Injuries have clouded Queensland’s preparations for Wednesday’s must-win second State of Origin game as they bid to keep alive their hopes of a ninth straight series victory over New South Wales.
Mal Meninga’s Maroons have been beset by fitness problems following their titanic 12-8 loss to the Blues in the opening Origin match in Brisbane on May 28.
Lose to NSW at Sydney’s Olympic stadium this week and a remarkable period of interstate domination will be over for Queensland, leaving the Blues’ to their first Origin series title since 2005.
Meninga initially chose an extended 22-man squad for the pivotal second game to cover an injury crisis.
Test fullback Billy Slater has not played since injuring his shoulder in the first game, while star centre Greg Inglis damaged ankle ligaments playing for his NRL club South Sydney.
With Test man Cooper Cronk out with a broken arm suffered in the series opener, his likely replacement Daly Cherry-Evans has knee trouble and Ben Hunt is on standby to make his Origin debut.
Meninga is confident Slater will play and hopes that Inglis will recover in time to take his place in Queensland’s Test-strength backline.
Skipper Cameron Smith said Cherry-Evans would not be assessed until the team’s final training session on Tuesday.
“It is a gamble but Daly has been present at all of our sessions, he’s been watching on,” Smith said Monday.
“It’s pretty late but that’s the situation we are in. No one is panicking. Everyone is pretty relaxed about it.”
Despite Queensland’s woes, NSW players realise they still have to win one more game as they close in on a breakthrough Origin series victory.
“We’ve got to be confident,” interchange forward Anthony Watmough said.
“We just have to turn up with the right mentality and do our job. If we do our job, we’ll go a long way to winning.
“We know they’re going to be a lot better, so we know we’ve got to be a lot better and we’re not getting complacent.”
Six-times series loser Greg Bird said the Blues had been burnt too many times before by the champion Queenslanders.
“They do it every year and I’m sure they’re trying to lull us into a false sense of security that we’re going to come up against a team that’s a bit under the weather,” he said.
“But we know better than that.”
One player key to Queensland’s chances is Test playmaker Johnathan Thurston, who missed some important tackles in game one, two of them leading to NSW’s only tries.
He coupled that with also missing two crucial conversion attempts and Thurston realises he must improve for Wednesday’s game.
“I have had a couple of weeks where I have been shocking with the boot but I have been working extremely hard,” he said.
“I am confident if I keep working hard hopefully I will bang a few more over.”