New South Wales State of Origin selectors will keep a close eye on the fitness of Penrith centre Michael Jennings over the coming weeks, admitting they are concerned by his possible inability to make it through the representative season despite assurances from Panthers officials that he is available for selection.<br><br>Jennings played a key role in his side’s stunning second-half comeback against Newcastle last Monday but twice struggled to stand on his injured left knee after being involved in heavy tackles.<br><br>The 22-year-old has so far resisted the temptation to undergo surgery to repair the torn lateral meniscus that has restricted his movement during the opening four rounds.<br><br>But Blues selector Geoff Gerard told NRL.com that selectors had taken note of Jennings’ form this season and would be speaking with Penrith’s medical staff before considering him for a NSW recall next month.<br><br>“When anybody isn’t playing well we always pay attention,” said Gerard, who is also on the City Origin selection panel.<br><br>“Before any of that we’ll have to see if he is selected to play for Australia and then we would have to consider his fitness for City-Country. “Realistically we are trying to pick a side on form. But there are a few things we need to consider.<br><br>“If Penrith’s doctors give him the all-clear, we still have to consider if a) he is playing well enough, and b) whether we think he can get through the rigors.”<br><br>Gerard watched Jennings’ performance last week with interest and didn’t miss the fact that the star centre moved gingerly.<br><br>“He did [look troubled] at times,” he said. “Those are the things that you take into consideration.<br><br>“Obviously we take a special interest in everyone that’s on our high priority list and I certainly have noted that he is thinking of putting off surgery for a while.<br> <br>“That’s Michael’s decision, but whether he thinks doing that might get him into the Australian side, I don’t know. <br><br>“If he doesn’t make it he might make the decision [to have surgery] then.<br><br>“I mean, he is such an exciting prospect and he is only going to get better as he learns a bit more but you have to consider these things and you’re also trying to mould a side as well.”<br><br>The Panthers, however, insist that there is no cause for concern, despite admitting that they’ve had to restrict Jennings’ training in order to reduce the load on his knee.<br><br>“He is fine,” coach Matt Elliott said. “I tell you what, he is a pretty durable kid.<br><br>“There have been a few times when he has had injuries and the medical staff has told me he would be out and he wasn’t.<br><br>“He has a small tear that needs to be fixed up when he gets the chance but it’s not bad enough to need an operation straight away.”<br><br>Asked if Jennings could potentially make the injury worse by playing on, Elliott said: “It’s not so much making it worse – we can aggravate that area if we over-train him so we’re doing a lot of water running and modified training at this stage.<br><br>“It has affected a little bit of his step off his left foot but it’s not really affecting him too much at all. It’s not something we’re overly concerned about.”<br><br>Jennings is a certainty for NSW selection if fit but there is no shortage of suitable replacements putting their hands up, with Gerard pointing to in-form South Sydney centre Beau Champion as a genuine contender to make his representative debut for City Origin on May 7.<br><br>“He is going very well and I can assure you he’ll be in contention,” he said.<br><br><b>Late NRL news:</b><br>• Panthers back-rower Trent Waterhouse will find out today if he is to be a late inclusion in the squad to face Sydney Roosters on Sunday after battling a quad injury.<br>• Newcastle veteran Adam MacDougall has been ruled out of his side’s clash with former club South Sydney with a fractured thumb.<br>• Bulldogs livewire Ben Barba is likely to be elevated to the starting line-up for tomorrow night’s game against the Warriors at ANZ Stadium.
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