Loyalty looks set to be tested in the Queensland camp with coach Mal Meninga keen to bring an abrupt end to the guessing game over Daly Cherry-Evans’ fitness for next week’s State of Origin opener in Sydney.
A final decision on Cherry-Evans (shoulder) looks set to be made on Wednesday in a bid to avoid disrupting the Maroons camp as they prepare to reclaim the Origin trophy from NSW.
As always, Queensland kept the faith with players, naming only one rookie – Broncos prop Josh McGuire – in their 17 to tackle the Blues on May 27.
But Meninga confirmed they would be taking a new tough love approach with injured players, saying a call would be made sooner rather than later on Cherry-Evans.
Either Cowboys pivot Michael Morgan or Queensland’s 18th man, Sydney Roosters enforcer Dylan Napa, look set to be injected into the team if Cherry-Evans is cut.
Cherry-Evans failed to attend Tuesday’s official team unveiling in Brisbane.
And rumours began swirling that the Manly playmaker had already been replaced by Morgan after Cherry-Evans sat out Tuesday’s Queensland team training session in Brisbane.
But a Maroons official said late on Tuesday: “There has been no official decision on Daly yet”.
Meninga said he would resist fighting fire with fire by throwing four forwards on the bench like NSW, insisting interchange utility Cherry-Evans would play if fit.
“It’s going to be based on a conversation with Daly on how he feels about everything,” he said.
“It’s really hard for me to make any comment at this stage until we know what the extent of the injury is.”
But Meninga said the Maroons camp could no longer afford to be distracted by injury dramas after having their eight-series winning run snapped last year.
The Maroons sweated on the fitness of Greg Inglis, Billy Slater and Cherry-Evans ahead of Origin II and Cooper Cronk before game three in 2014.
“We’ve seen the NSW side, they’re going with four big boppers on the bench,” Meninga said.
“I’ll talk to selectors and staff and the senior guys about what we need to combat that (if Cherry-Evans is cut).
“(But) Michael (Morgan)’s obviously at the forefront of our minds.”
If Meninga does want to bulk up his bench, the 109kg, 194cm Napa looms large as 18th man.
“If Dylan plays, he’ll handle it from a toughness point of view,” Meninga said.
Maroons skipper Cameron Smith was relieved to be playing Origin I after lodging an early guilty plea to a dangerous contact charge from Melbourne’s last round NRL win over South Sydney.
But Meninga could not see anything in the incident.
“I thought it was a bit harsh, the charge initially,” he said.
“From a team perspective … we’re glad he’s there.”