Blues officials are hopeful a calf injury won’t deny Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen the opportunity to make his State of Origin debut in next Wednesday’s series opener against Queensland at Adelaide Oval.
After winning the Clive Churchill Medal as player of the match in last Sunday night’s 26-20 grand final triumph over Penrith, he is tipped to fill the No.14 role for NSW or play fullback if James Tedesco succumbs to a troublesome knee injury.
Both states will reduce their 27-man squads to 21 players on Thursday and then 19 next Tuesday, before naming the final 17 an hour before kick-off in Adelaide next Wednesday night.
Tedesco and Papenhuyzen are expected to be included in NSW’s 21-man squad but face fitness tests before being cleared to play, with Blues coach Brad Fittler planning to make a call on Tedesco by Saturday.
Papenhuyzen and Melbourne teammates Josh Addo-Carr and Dale Finucane are due to have their first training run with the Blues on Thursday after the Storm players broke their bubble on the Sunshine Coast on Wednesday afternoon.
Match: Blues v Maroons
Game 1 -
Venue: Adelaide Oval, Adelaide
Melbourne GM of football Frank Ponissi said there were no concerns about star five-eighth Cameron Munster’s knee injury and he should be fit to play for Queensland, along with second-rower Felise Kaufusi, forwards Christian Welch and Tino Fa'asuamaleaui and centre Brenko Lee.
However, Ponissi said Papenhuyzen had been playing with a calf injury for some time that would need to be assessed by Blues doctor Nathan Gibbs.
"Our medical staff had a slight concern with Ryan Papenhuyzen about a calf injury that he has been carrying for a while," Ponissi said.
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"He has been carrying if for a while so whether he aggravated it in the grand final I’m not too sure.
"They think he is going to be fine but it just needs to be checked."
Fittler told NRL.com he would speak with Papenhuyzen on Wednesday night and indicated a final call would be made on any doubtful players on Saturday.
Assuming Tedesco and Papenhuyzen are fit, the main selection issues for the Blues are right centre, five-eighth, the front row and make-up of the interchange bench.
The NSW squad has nine middle forwards, while St George Illawarra captain Cameron McInnes played lock as well as hooker this season and his versatility may earn him a place on the interchange.
Parramatta captain Clint Gutherson is expected to be chosen at right centre ahead of Dragons rookie Zac Lomax and Penrith’s Stephen Crichton, while Fittler faces the difficult choice between Sydney Roosters five-eighth Luke Keary and South Sydney’s Cody Walker for the No.6 jersey.
Panthers five-eighth Jarome Luai was a surprise selection in the squad but he gives the Blues four specialist halves for opposed training sessions, while gaining valuable experience for future Origin campaigns.
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Penrith’s Nathan Cleary is the only specialist halfback in the squad, while Addo-Carr and Dally M Medal winner Jack Wighton are also guaranteed to retain their positions in the backs.
Roosters winger Daniel Tupou is expected to edge out Wighton’s Canberra teammate Nick Cotric to make his first Origin appearance since 2015.
In the forwards, South Sydney’s Damien Cook will be hooker, with captain Boyd Cordner and Tyson Frizell established as the Blues second-row pairing. Angus Crichton is the only other edge back-rower in the squad but Fittler could use South Sydney’s Cameron Murray in that role.
Manly’s Jake Trbojevic started in the front row alongside Newcastle prop Daniel Saifiti in Perth last year and could fill a similar role to ensure a place for both Finucane and Murray.
Parramatta’s Junior Paulo is expected to make his Origin debut, with teammate Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Brisbane’s Payne Haas the other specialist props in the NSW squad. Eels forward Nathan Brown and Penrith’s Isaah Yeo are expected to miss out.
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The Maroons selections are simpler as Valentine Holmes and Corey Allan are suspended for the opening Origin, and coach Wayne Bennett has a glut of other outside backs.
Munster, Manly halfback Daly Cherry-Evans and South Sydney’s Dane Gagai are expected to be the only backline survivors from last year’s Origin series, with Gold Coast star AJ Brimson to make his Queensland debut at fullback.
Storm centre Brenko Lee is tipped to cap a meteoric rise this season from unwanted Titan to premiership-winning Origin representative, while Penrith utility Kurt Capewell and Xavier Coates or Edrick Lee are expected to also make their debuts.
Roosters veteran Jake Friend is tipped to win the hooking spot, with Ben Hunt in the bench utility role.
Fa'asuamaleaui, Welch, Canberra prop Josh Papalii, Gold Coast’s Jai Arrow and Moe Fotuaika and Roosters forward Lindsay Collins are vying for the spots in the starting pack and on the bench.