On the verge of his 20th Origin appearance, Justin Hodges concedes the Maroons are facing their greatest test since 2006. Credit: Grant Trouville. Copyright: NRL Photos
Greg Inglis was confined to the swimming pool while Daly Cherry-Evans and Billy Slater took tentative steps on the training paddock on Thursday afternoon but senior Maroons players have acknowledged that Game Two next Wednesday night is their greatest test.
Having sent Queensland fans into a mild panic on Wednesday with the suggestion he was more "hopeful" of playing in Game Two of the 2014 Holden State of Origin Series rather than confident, Cherry-Evans was able to cast the brace on his left knee aside and undertake some running under the watchful eye of Maroons doctor Roy Saunders.
Slater did some light work on his right shoulder and Inglis stepped out of the 'moon boot' long enough to swim some laps in the Sanctuary Cove Country Club pool with a decision expected to be made on their inclusion over the course of the weekend.
Hodges and Thurston were both members of the Queensland squad that fought back from 1-0 down to win the 2006 Series and start this epic eight year dynasty but both believe there has been no greater test of this team's ability than what faces them next week.
"This is definitely the biggest [challenge]," Hodges said. "Going down to Sydney, 1-0 down, obviously facing a lot of injuries, it's going to be our biggest challenge over the last eight years. This game is probably the biggest game we'll play."
Added Thurston: "No doubt in my time in this team this is the biggest challenge we've ever faced. Obviously with the injury cloud that's hanging over the boys we don't exactly know the make-up of our team as of yet, without a doubt this is the biggest challenge for us that I've been a part of."
Hodges was the only Maroons player under an injury cloud heading into Game One but was moving freely in the first field session of the camp as he prepares for Origin match No.20.
Such a milestone makes Hodges eligible to receive the Dick 'Tosser' Turner Medal, a feat that seemed unlikely after a disastrous debut game in Game Two, 2002.
"I've clawed my way to 20 games with all the injuries and everything I've had and I'm really looking forward to it," Hodges said.
"It's a milestone I've looked at for the last couple of years and with my achilles [injury] last year I didn't think I'd get it but I've worked really hard and this is something very special that I wanted to do and I'm looking forward to achieving it."
A day after Corey Parker made the agonising decision to withdraw from the team with a facial fracture, Hodges knows all too well the difficulty the doubtful players face in making a decision on their availability.
Will Chambers served as Hodges' shadow for Game One and the veteran Broncos centre believes Inglis, Slater and Cherry-Evans will all be given as much time as possible by coach Mal Meninga to make the call.
"It's up to the coach really. You've got some of our biggest players that really make a big difference for our side so I'm pretty sure Mal will give them to the last minute," said Hodges.
"The hardest decision is to pull out but the easiest thing to do also is to pull out as well. The last thing you want to do is to go into a big game and only last five minutes and you can't finish the game and the whole team suffers. I think the boys will make a call, probably over the weekend, and go from there."