No guarantees for injured Maroons
Queensland Origin coach Mal Meninga says he won't be afraid of making "tough decisions" on the make-up of the Maroons team for Game One of the 2015 Series as he closely monitors the fitness of a handful of key players.
Incumbents Billy Slater, Aidan Guerra and Darius Boyd are all currently sidelined with lengthy injuries while Justin Hodges is expected to make a return for the Broncos this Friday after missing the past two weeks with a recurring hamstring problem.
Four weeks out from when he will name his team for Game One, Meninga said all injured players will be selected if they can prove their fitness in time but added that he won't gamble on taking unfit players into camp.
Slater (shoulder), Guerra (broken jaw) and Boyd (achilles) are all racing the clock to prove their fitness for Game One with Meninga suggesting that the mistakes of 2014 where preparations were disrupted by injury concerns over key players won't be repeated.
"It didn't work too well for us last year so we learn from those lessons and that experience and we'll make some judgements when the time is right," Meninga said at the launch of the QRL's Vanuatu appeal on Monday.
"We need to be training well all week. Preparation needs to be good all week for us to perform at the levels we need to do to be successful. If we can't do that then we need to make some tough decisions through the week.
"I saw [Boyd] on the news running around happily and hopefully he'll get to play. He's ahead of schedule, which is great, but I'm pretty sure the club won't rush him into playing so Game One might be unrealistic for him.
"With Aidan, I'm pretty certain he'll be back playing prior to Origin so if he's playing he'd be a near certainty to be selected.
"I haven't talked to Billy but Billy will work very hard on his injury and if he's back playing fit and healthy Bill will be part of the team.
"Billy's done a fantastic job for us in the past, his form this year has been excellent, he's just been injured. He'll work hard on his injury so he'll be fit and he'll be fresh. If he doesn't play a game he'll still be in calculations for being selected for sure."
"If [Hodges] is fit and raring to go, Hodgo's in the footy team. He's done all the off-season and played the majority of the games this year so he'll be fit, and he loves Origin. He wants to be part of the Queensland team and if he's fit and healthy he'll play.
"The first game is really important and our preparation has to be really good and we have to have a fit footy team, that's really important going into Game One."
While Meninga has obvious concerns over his injured troops, he is also heartened by the form of Queensland players pushing to make their debut Origin appearances.
Broncos prop Josh McGuire and Roosters firebrand Dylan Napa made their battle for a bench spot personal last Friday night while Dane Gagai has thrust himself into the frame with a stunning start to the season with the Knights.
"We have got some really good depth in all positions," Meninga said. "Ben Hunt is a good example, Michael Morgan is playing some good footy at the moment, Dylan Napa, Josh McGuire and Korbin Sims in the front row, Gavin Cooper was part of our Emerging Origin camp this year, they are all capable players who would do a really good job for Queensland."