An SOS has been sent to Newcastle’s Dane Gagai after Queensland revealed they were monitoring an “unwell” Greg Inglis and recovering fullback Billy Slater ahead of the State of Origin opener.
Already reeling from Daly Cherry-Evans’ withdrawal, the Maroons are now sweating on superstar Inglis after giving Slater (shoulder) until Saturday to prove his fitness.
As insurance, Gagai has been called into the squad and is expected to train with the Maroons on Thursday afternoon at their Gold Coast camp.
“With fullback Billy Slater currently receiving ongoing management on his shoulder and centre Greg Inglis unwell, Maroons coach Mal Meninga said it was necessary to extend the squad ahead of game one in Sydney next week,” a Maroons statement said.
It added further intrigue to Queensland’s less than ideal preparation for Wednesday night’s Origin opener.
After the Cowboys’ Michael Morgan officially replaced Cherry-Evans on the bench, focus had turned to Slater who initially looked set to be given a Thursday fitness deadline.
However, Maroons coach Mal Meninga revealed Slater would be assessed on Saturday before the team flies out for Sydney on Sunday.
Meninga was confident the veteran fullback would take his place in the side.
“He’s got another 48 hours,” he told Brisbane’s Triple M radio station.
“He’s settling down really, really well.
“He had a scan yesterday (Wednesday), it’s still the same as it’s always been.
“(But) we’re confident he will play.”
Meninga also confirmed Cowboys playmaker Michael Morgan would fill the interchange vacancy created by Cherry-Evans’ withdrawal.
Slater missed the Kangaroos’ recent trans-Tasman Test loss to New Zealand due to the same injury.
Queensland backrower Matt 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.
But Gillett said the feeling in the team was that Slater was simply easing his way into the camp after being a notable absentee at training to date.
“Billy is just being the professional that he is – he is fine,” Gillett said.
“He is just preparing the way he does.”
Meninga had adopted a new tough love approach with injured players this year and made an early call on Cherry-Evans (shoulder).
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.
The fact that Slater has been given until the last minute to prove his fitness indicates Queensland medical staff are confident Slater will play.
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 said.