Maroons sweat on Thurston's fitness
He has been a constant in the Queensland Origin team for more than a decade but Maroons forward Sam Thaiday is confident the next generation of halves are ready to step in should Johnathan Thurston's calf injury sideline him for an extended period.
Due to go for scans on Sunday after being carried from the field in Saturday night's shock loss to the Wests Tigers, initially estimates have Thurston possibly missing a month of football which would almost certainly see him miss the Test against New Zealand in Canberra on May 5.
After a record 36 consecutive State of Origin appearances for Queensland, Thurston has until May 31 to prove his fitness to Maroons coach Kevin Walters but in the unlikely event he does not play Thaiday has faith in those lying in wait.
Brisbane's Ben Hunt is next to no chance of selection after scans confirmed he could be out for as long as two months with a hamstring injury leaving the likes of Daly Cherry-Evans, Corey Norman, Michael Morgan and Anthony Milford vying to partner Cooper Cronk in the halves.
Cherry-Evans (six Origins) is the most experienced of the quartet when it comes to playing for Queensland with Thaiday urging coach Kevin Walters and selectors Gene Miles and Darren Lockyer to look to the future.
"We've got some great halfbacks there that can certainly fill a role and if you want to look to the future we can maybe blood a new young halfback now," Thaiday said.
"Definitely with Billy Slater hopefully putting his hand up for the team, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith still steering the team around, I'm sure that we'll still have a strong enough Queensland team.
"Daly's done a job for us in the past but we'll wait and see what Kevvie's thinking.
"I'm glad I'm not a selector."
After a largely blessed run with injury over the past decade the 2017 Origin series promises to test Queensland's depth in ways it hasn't been for a number of years.
Mainstays Matt Scott and Greg Inglis both succumbed to season-ending knee injuries in the early rounds of the Telstra Premiership, centre Justin O'Neill is being troubled by a knee injury, Dylan Napa is currently out with an ankle injury and now Thurston and Hunt are looking at lengthy stints on the sidelines.
But where outsiders might see challenges Josh McGuire sees opportunity and the five-time Origin representative has no doubt that the Maroons have the troops required to fill the void of those on the injured list.
"You can never count a Queenslander down," said McGuire.
"I don't know the extent of JT's injury but hopefully he'll be back.
"There is a lot of depth there in the halves especially. We've got Milford, Corey Norman, Ben Hunt's obviously injured but there's a wealth of potential there and Cherry-Evans as well.
"I'm sure whoever gets the opportunity will take it with both hands."
With just four weeks until the Representative Round Test against the Kiwis and a World Cup at the end of the year Thurston's injury could open the door for Sharks five-eighth James Maloney to add to his two Tests from last year.
Maloney partnered Cronk in the opening game of the Four Nations tournament, scoring a try and kicking seven goals for a personal tally of 18 points in Australia's 54-12 win over Scotland in Hull.