Ben Barba has emerged as the bolter for the Queensland fullback vacancy created by an injured Billy Slater.
While it is believed Slater will be invited into the Maroons’ camp this year, Queensland State of Origin coach Kevin Walters must still find an on-field replacement for the Melbourne veteran.
Walters said Barba had impressed since beating the likes of Valentine Holmes and Jack Bird to the Cronulla No.1 jersey this year.
And he did not rule out Barba outshining another stellar duo for the Maroons’ custodian role – South Sydney’s Greg Inglis and Brisbane fullback Darius Boyd.
Inglis appeared the favourite after filling in admirably for an injured Slater in Origin III last year, sparking a record 52-6 win for Queensland.
But Walters admitted a revitalised Barba had caught his eye.
“We’ve got some options at fullback,” Walters said after announcing Queensland would hold their traditional fan day on June 14 in Gladstone.
“Inglis, Boyd and Ben Barba has started the year strongly for the Sharks.
“Ben is warming to the role of fullback.”
Barba is yet to regain the form that won him the 2012 Dally M Medal after injury and off-field dramas but Walters hinted it might be around the corner.
“Once he gets a bit more football under his belt, we all know how exciting he can be,” Walters said.
“He is another option (for Queensland).”
Walters felt for Slater who this week was ruled out for the season due to more shoulder surgery.
The 32-year-old was just one NRL game into his comeback from a nine-month recovery after an operation on the same shoulder.
“I spoke to him before his operation; he was obviously extremely disappointed,” Walters said.
“He was aware of how bad the situation was – he knew it was going to be a long-term injury.”
But Walters did not have much empathy for Slater’s Melbourne teammate Cameron Munster.
Youngster Munster again impressed filling in as Storm fullback in Slater’s absence in last round’s home win over Gold Coast.
However, Munster won’t be considered for Queensland duty this year after being one of eight players who copped a 12-month Origin ban for breaking curfew at this year’s Emerging Maroons camp in Brisbane.
Walters said he had no regrets despite Queensland’s backline depth set to be tested due to Slater’s serious injury.
“I am not sure where Cameron was on the pecking order,” Walters said of Munster.
“He’s still got some work to do.
“I have spoken to the (banned) players and they are happy with how it sits.
“We are disappointed with their actions but we need to move on.
“Cameron will get his opportunity if he continues to play well next season.”