The stage is set for a State of Origin selection showdown after Brisbane’s Corey Oates was cleared for Friday night’s NRL grand final re-match against North Queensland.
Oates is a confirmed starter after an emotional week and will line up against Cowboys flyer Kyle Feldt in one of the head to head battles set to determine the Queensland side to be named on Tuesday night.
The towering winger missed training on Tuesday to attend his grandmother’s funeral but was cleared by Wayne Bennett and will feature in a full strength Broncos against the defending premiers at a sold out Townsville.
Ladder leaders Brisbane will welcome back Andrew McCullough (hamstring), Adam Blair (suspension) and Alex Glenn (calf).
Asked if Oates was ready for Origin, Bennett said: “He has done everything right here.
“There are a few contenders, the Cowboys guy (Feldt) and (Newcastle’s) Dane Gagai.
“I don’t think he (Oates) is over the line yet.”
Cowboys coach Paul Green did not have to reminded of the threat Oates posed.
“He grew up as a backrower, he’s got the toughness of playing in the forwards but he’s transitioned well on the wing,” he said.
“He a real handful.”
Oates has scored 11 tries in his last 10 games but it is his defence that has come under question since being caught out in the 2015 grand final.
Oates ran out of the line too early as Michael Morgan set up Feldt’s try that sent the season decider into extra-time.
Asked if Oates’ defence could be exposed, Green said: “Not him in particular.
“They are one of the best defensive sides in the competition – there are not too many weaknesses.”
Queensland coach Kevin Walters will run the rule over the match as he determines his 17 for the June 1 Origin opener in Sydney.
The Maroons backline need to fill vacancies created by Billy Slater (shoulder) and centres Will Chambers (foot) and Justin Hodges (retirement).
Then there’s his forward pack with Brisbane prop Josh McGuire and North Queensland backrower Gavin Cooper applying pressure for a starting spot.
But Green warned: “If any player is going into this thinking about another game they probably won’t be at their best.”
Bennett did not believe players would be distracted by Origin speculation.
“Players like Corey Oates and Josh McGuire go into the game knowing they have to play well to be in the team and that’s the way it should be,” he said.
“The experienced players probably know they will be in the team but they know how to perform at this level.”
The last two derbies have been decided by golden point including last year’s grand final.
The Cowboys have won their first five home games of the year but are smarting from a 15-14 last round loss to Melbourne.
“The game itself gets you up no matter what happened the previous week,” Bennett said.
“There is a great rivalry.”