Queensland forward Matt Gillett has backed Billy Slater to overcome a shoulder complaint and play in next week’s State of Origin opener in Sydney.
Already dealing with the loss of bench utility Daly Cherry-Evans, the Maroons are now sweating on the fitness of Slater who has kept a low profile at Queensland training to date.
It is believed the veteran fullback faces a fitness test at their Gold Coast camp on Thursday.
Slater missed the Kangaroos’ recent trans-Tasman Test loss to New Zealand due to the same injury.
However, Gillett said the feeling in the team was that Slater was simply easing his way into the camp.
“Billy is just being the professional that he is – he is fine,” Gillett said.
“He is just preparing the way he does.”
Queensland coach Mal Meninga has already tested the Maroons’ legendary loyalty with his new tough love approach by making an early call on Cherry-Evans (shoulder).
Meninga is desperate to avoid a repeat of previous years in which their preparation was disrupted by injured players given until the last minute to prove their fitness.
No players have been placed on standby for Slater although new bench utility Michael Morgan had a stellar turn as North Queensland fullback last year.
Morgan was rushed into the squad for Cherry-Evans on Wednesday.
In a worse case scenario Morgan could slot in for Slater with 18th man – Sydney Roosters giant Dylan Napa – joining an all-forwards bench, meeting the challenge posed by a beefed up NSW interchange.
Gillett – who underwent a shoulder reconstruction two years ago – admitted Slater’s complaint was tough to manage.
“They are hard to maintain. It can be good and then during a game you get a knock on it,” he said.
As it stands, Morgan looks set to fill the bench utility spot vacated by Cherry-Evans with Napa to miss out despite the Blues’ huge 42kg bench advantage.
“He has been playing well, he is pretty strong, shrugging off players – no doubt if he plays he will do well,” Gillett said of Morgan.
“(But) they (NSW) will come through the middle with their big boppers – it will be hard to stop.”