He has been named in the unfamiliar No.18 jersey for the opening match of the 2017 Holden State of Origin Series next Wednesday night but two former Maroons greats believe Johnathan Thurston is a good chance of taking on the Blues for the 37th time in a row.
Queensland coach Kevin Walters was quite certain when he announced Anthony Milford at five-eighth on Monday afternoon that Thurston will not recover from a shoulder injury in time to face New South Wales on May 31 but others aren't so sure.
Given Broncos coach Wayne Bennett's insistence that Milford travel with his side to face the Warriors in New Zealand on Saturday if named on an extended bench as cover for Thurston, former Maroons five-eighth Ben Ikin suggested on Fox Sports that the selection tactic could have been used to circumvent Bennett's concerns.
In his role as Mal Meninga's assistant coach with the Kangaroos, five-time Queensland Origin player and former Maroons coach Michael Hagan saw Thurston overcome a calf injury in time to face the Kiwis in Canberra recently and told NRL.com he's not prepared to rule out the champion No.6 from extending his record run of consecutive Origin appearances.
"I wouldn't back him out just yet," said Hagan, who was Queensland coach when Thurston made his Origin debut in Game One, 2005. "The way he handled the preparation for the Test with his calf, he's got that real quiet sense of determination when he think he's a chance of playing.
"I'm absolutely astounded that he hasn't missed a game to this point given he's not the biggest fella in our game and he's in a pretty demanding position where you're getting spotted up in the line all the time.
"I wouldn't rule him out just yet but it would be a real shame if he can't keep that consecutive run going. Cameron [Smith] has only missed one game (Origin I, 2010) since 2003 so it's been a phenomenal record by both of them for such a long time."
The last of Ikin's 17 Origin matches for Queensland came in Game Three, 2003 and after Thurston was named in the North Queensland squad of 21 to meet the Sharks last Thursday night also anticipates him taking the field, albeit in a different number than we have become accustomed.
"I'm pretty convinced I read Johnathan Thurston saying he was almost right to play for the Cowboys against the Sharks on Thursday night which suggests to me – with Origin still 10 days away – that he's got to be a better than even-money chance of taking the field for the Maroons," Ikin said.
"I don't want to turn this into a conspiracy theory because today's a very special day for Anthony Milford. It's like dreams come true kind of stuff and I don't think that should be undermined in any way but going off the back of what Kevvie said in his press conference, I still believe Johnathan Thurston's a very good chance of being there for Queensland in the first game which would mean Anthony Milford would miss out.
"Wayne Bennett effectively backed Kevvie Walters into a corner because Wayne had been on the record as saying that unless Anthony Milford was named in the starting 17 then he wouldn't be releasing him from his commitments with the Broncos this week to be part of the camp.
"By making Johnathan Thurston as 18th man they've been able to circumnavigate that little issue."