Last chance for Origin hopefuls to impress before series opener

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    This weekend’s round of matches represent the last chance for hopefuls from both states to impress before Kevin Walters and Laurie Daley name their sides ahead of the State of Origin series opener at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on May 31.

    We start with the Maroons, and after fears that Johnathan Thurston could miss the entire series due to a shoulder injury suffered in the Anzac Test, there is every chance he’ll play the opener.

    The 34-year-old, who has played 36 consecutive matches for the Maroons dating back to his debut in 2005, has travelled with his Cowboys teammates to Sydney ahead of their clash against the Sharks.

    He has been named on an extended bench for the Cowboys, although there is no certainty he will play, presumably so that he doesn’t risk further injury against the defending premiers.

    If Thurston is ruled unfit for the Origin opener, it would open the door for Anthony Milford to take his place alongside Cooper Cronk in the halves.

    The night following the Sharks versus Cowboys clash at Southern Cross Group Stadium, Milford and Ben Hunt will marshal the Broncos against the Wests Tigers at Suncorp Stadium.

    Both Broncos players are eligible to make their Origin debuts this year after they, along with several other players, were banned for 12 months for breaking team curfew during the Emerging Origin camp early last year.

    Corey Norman is all but out of the running after he suffered a serious knee injury in the Eels’ 48-10 thrashing at the hands of the Roosters last week.

    Broncos captain Darius Boyd has almost certainly played his way into the Maroons’ No.1 guernsey; he only needs to get through the game against the Tigers unscathed to ensure his place.

    Dane Gagai of the Maroons celebrates with Darius Boyd

    AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

    However, there is the slight chance that Billy Slater (whose Storm side plays the Rabbitohs in Perth on Sunday night) could make a comeback after a shoulder injury ruined his last twenty-four months.

    Slater has impressed in his comeback from shoulder surgery, having scored three tries in his last two matches, including a double against the Dragons in Round 9.

    If the former Australian fullback is named, that would push Boyd onto the wing.

    For the visitors, who caused a 19-18 upset win in the corresponding match last year (though on that occasion the Broncos were without their Origin stars), Aaron Woods is a chance to come back from a hamstring injury, which will also boost his chances of featuring for New South Wales.

    For the Dragons, Josh Dugan’s recovery from a fractured cheekbone suffered in the Anzac Test earlier this month is taking much quicker than anticipated. Still, he has not been named for the match against the Warriors in Hamilton this Friday night, so if coach Laurie Daley names him, it will mean the only football he has played this month would be the 50 minutes for which he featured in the aforementioned Anzac Test.

    Following improved form so far this season, Mitchell Pearce is all but certain to be named at halfback, which would be his first representative match following his role in the 2016 Australia Day video scandal which saw him suspended for the first eight rounds of last season.

    Jarryd Hayne is in doubt after suffering nerve damage in the Titans’ 38-36 win over the Storm in Brisbane last Saturday night; he has been ruled out of the clash against the Sea Eagles this weekend.

    Manly fullback Tom Trbojevic has been ruled out until at least Round 17, after he suffered an ankle injury in the Sea Eagles’ loss to the Broncos in the second match of the Suncorp Stadium double header.

    The battle for the No.1 jersey is likely to come down to either Matt Moylan or James Tedesco, the latter is the incumbent after Moylan played five-eighth in the dead-rubber match last year.

    Tedesco will get his chance to impress against the incumbent Maroons fullback, Darius Boyd, when the Tigers face the Broncos for the only time in the season in Brisbane for the third consecutive year this Friday night.

    Moylan, on the other hand, will lead the Panthers against the Knights in Newcastle as they seek their fourth win of the season this Sunday.

    A potential bolter for the Blues is Dragons prop Paul Vaughan, who has proven his worth in the Red V jumper after crossing over from Canberra at the end of last season.

    He has played his role in the club’s rise up the ladder this year; at one point they led the competition on percentage, but three straight losses has seen them drop to fifth. The former Raider has signed a two-year contract extension with the Dragons, keeping him at Kogarah Oval until at least the end of 2021.

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