Tom Trbojevic's withdrawal from NSW Origin duty will kick off a finals shoot-out between aspiring Blues rookies Stephen Crichton, Campbell Graham and Jarrod Croker for his vacant centre spot.
Trbojevic's scratching for the end of season Origin campaign was confirmed on Thursday due to his slower than expected recovery from a shoulder injury, coming on the back of three months out with a torn hamstring.
Blues coach Brad Fittler lauded Trbojevic's "selfless decision" to rule himself out, opening up a slot in the NSW backline.
Trbojevic was among his state's best last season at right centre with James Tedesco occupying his usual fullback role.
But already facing the prospect of playing just one NRL game in five months leading into the November 4 series opener, Trbojevic's delayed recovery from a partially dislocated shoulder led to the 23-year-old pulling the pin.
Kotoni Staggs's ACL rupture has cost NSW a ready-made replacement on the right edge, while St George Illawarra's Zac Lomax has also warmed to the role this year after shifting from fullback.
Lomax remains an option for NSW despite not being picked in Fittler's initial extended squad announced on Sunday, with the Blues coach wary of committing a host of players to training duties within days of their regular season COVID-19 restrictions ending.
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The likes of Crichton, Croker, Graham and Eels captain Clint Gutherson hold a distinct advantage however with the looming finals series to further their Origin selection chances.
All aside from Gutherson play their club football at left centre, a role Jack Wighton filled for the Blues superbly in last year's series, though his utility value could result in an edge shift for the Raiders star.
Crichton, just 23 games into his career and only two weeks past his 20th birthday, and Croker, 30 and with 276 NRL outings, offer NSW polar opposite options out wide.
Speaking earlier in the week, Fittler praised Crichton's breakout season leading into his first finals outing where he will mark the game's best centre in Roosters star Joey Manu.
Fittler also indicated a decent run through the finals would greatly benefit individuals at the selection table, as was the case in years past with post-season Kangaroos tours.
"I know [Crichton] is playing left centre but he's played fullback and they've put him back there at different stages and played him in different positions," Fittler said.
"Having that energy impacts everyone. Coaching staff, teammates, that's why Penrith are going so well at the moment.
"The best teams always have the biggest representation [of players in Origin]. It's just the way it is ...
"Definitely the grand finalists, they'll have a couple of smokies for sure. And that's why we need to leave a bit of space [in the 27-man squad]. That's the reward, that's always been the reward."
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary has advocated rep footy rewards for his players more than once during their run to the minor premiership.
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While Nathan Cleary is a lock for the sky-blue No.7 jersey, teammates including Crichton, back-rowers Liam Martin and Isaah Yeo and hooker Api Koroisau each have varying claims for NSW selection.
"I'd like to see all our boys get representative honours if they deserve it," Ivan Cleary said in his weekly pre-game media conference, which began 15 minutes after Trbojevic's withdrawal was confirmed.
"The better the team goes the more opportunities there are.
"Those honours will come on the back of good performances for your team, club and particularly in finals games it's only going to help.
"We're confident in the way Stephen has played this year and the way he's prepared this week. He certainly goes into this finals series full of confidence."