The plot has thickened for Queensland after star centres Justin Hodges and Greg Inglis were no shows at training on Thursday.
Already reeling from Daly Cherry-Evans’ withdrawal, the Maroons are now sweating on superstar Inglis (virus) and Hodges (foot) after giving veteran fullback Billy Slater (shoulder) more time to prove his fitness.
Queensland coach Mal Meninga asked Newcastle’s Dane Gagai to join the camp on Thursday, adding further intrigue to a less than ideal preparation for Wednesday night’s State of Origin opener in Sydney.
“It’s here to test you a little bit,” Meninga said.
“We’ve brought Dane in because you just don’t know.
“We’ll make some definite decisions tomorrow.”
Meninga had initially given Slater until Saturday to prove his fitness.
But he was more confident of his veteran No.1 getting the green light on Friday after he eventually joined his teammates at training.
Meninga also backed Hodges to overcome a cut foot that required a “few stitches” and kept his fingers crossed Inglis would soon bounce back from a virus.
After the Cowboys’ Michael Morgan officially replaced bench utility Cherry-Evans, the focus initially turned to Slater.
Not sighted at training this week to date, Slater spent the majority of Thursday’s session undergoing sprint drills but joined the rest of the squad briefly for light contact work.
“He was pain free so I am very confident he is going to play, so that’s a good thing,” Meninga said.
However, the attention quickly switched to what was not happening on the field when Hodges and Inglis failed to arrive.
“Hodgo’s got a cut foot, don’t know how, but it’s on top of the foot so that’s not going to cause too many issues,” Meninga said.
The Maroons mentor said Inglis was on antibiotics and had been isolated from teammates.
“We hope it is a 24 hour bug,” he said.
It was exactly what Meninga did not want to happen as Queensland plotted to reclaim the Origin trophy from NSW.
He had been 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.
As a result, Meninga had adopted a new tough love approach with injured players this year, thus making the early call on Cherry-Evans (shoulder).
Rookie Morgan was rushed into the squad for Cherry-Evans on Wednesday.
Meninga said Morgan would slot onto the bench instead of 18th man, Sydney Roosters giant Dylan Napa, despite the Blues’ huge 42kg bench advantage.
“Yes… Michael Morgan, straight into the team,” Meninga told Brisbane’s Triple M on Thursday.