The much-maligned Darius Boyd is set to move from wing to fullback for Queensland should injury rule out superstars Billy Slater and Greg Inglis from State of Origin II.
Boyd has scored 14 tries at Origin level in 18 games on the wing, but is ready to step up and wear the No.1 shirt for the Maroons after producing a masterclass performance for Newcastle against Wests Tigers on Sunday in his 200th NRL match.
For the first time in their record State of Origin-winning run, Queensland are dealing with an injury crisis.
The team usually picks itself, but chairman of selectors Des Morris admits final decisions won’t be made until Monday morning with untested fullbacks Anthony Milford and Ben Barba in contention for selection in an extended squad.
However, for the crucial fullback position, it’s highly unlikely the Maroons would gamble on a rookie.
Boyd has played fullback for Australia and one of Queensland’s greatest coaches, Wayne Bennett, said his Knights’ star should be an automatic selection.
“He’d be my choice,” said Bennett.
“He’s in the top four or five fullbacks in the game.”
Slater is considered at least a 50/50 chance of recovering from a shoulder injury, but Inglis is in grave doubt after suffering a suspected ankle syndesmosis injury in Souths’ 34-18 win over the Warriors on Saturday in Perth.
Inglis has gone for scans, with results on Monday expected to confirm he will be out for anywhere between three to eight weeks.
However, the Maroons biggest strike weapon took to social media to downplay concerns by pledging “I’ll be sweet” for Origin II.
Fullback isn’t the end of Queensland’s worries.
Morris admits he “held his breath” when halfback hopeful Daly Cherry-Evans hobbled off with a knee complaint after a nasty tackle from Bulldogs forward Sam Kasiano in Manly’s 32-10 NRL win on Friday night.
Despite his brilliant club form, the jury is also still out on whether Cherry-Evans can successfully fill the No.7 vacancy created by Cooper Cronk’s broken arm.
Melbourne’s Will Chambers – 18th man for game one won 12-8 by NSW in Brisbane – would slot into the centres for Inglis but it remains to be seen how reigning eight-time champions Queensland would cope without their X-factor.
Canberra fullback Milford is waiting in the wings and looms as a bench candidate, providing cover at fullback and in the halves.
Selectors are still contemplating whether to stock the bench with four forwards and add a prop like Ben Hannant, or include a utility – with Roosters hooker Jake Friend another possibility.
Newcastle’s Dane Gagai shapes as a wing chance should Boyd be required at the back.
“That’s what is up for debate,” Morris said of their bench.
“But it (four bench forwards) does limit you if you do get an injury in the halves.
“While we were fortunate to have Daly there in the first one whether we roll the dice and go without a reserve back in the second one is something yet to be decided.”
Inglis’ injury is a massive blow after selectors toyed with the idea of injecting the Rabbitohs strike weapon into the Maroons halves if Cherry-Evans failed to back up in Origin II or at fullback if Slater did not prove his fitness.
Backrower Sam Thaiday – back from a lengthy calf complaint – is set to be rushed back into the starting side.
Likely Queensland Origin II squad: Billy Slater, Darius Boyd, Greg Inglis/Will Chambers, Justin Hodges, Brent Tate, Johnathan Thurston, Daly Cherry-Evans, Matt Scott, Cameron Smith, Nate Myles, Chris McQueen, Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker. Interchange: Matt Gillett, Ben Teo, Josh Papalii, Aidan Guerra.