Nathan Merritt’s dreams of a long-awaited State of Origin call-up may become a reality as NSW deal with a fullback crisis heading into game two in Brisbane on June 26.
Merritt has come into calculations as incumbent Jarryd Hayne and would-be fill-in Josh Dugan battle injuries. Michael Gordon had been pencilled in for a call-up had Hayne and Dugan failed fitness tests but he, too, is in doubt after missing Cronulla’s match against Parramatta with a calf injury on Saturday.
Merritt’s inclusion would see Brett Morris switched to fullback with the South Sydney flyer taking his place on the wing.
NSW are expected to pick an extended squad on Sunday as several stars battle injuries as they look to clinch the three-game series after beating Queensland 14-6 in Sydney. Of particular concern is the fullback position, with Hayne no certainty to play after starring in game one.
Hayne, who limped from Parramatta Stadium with a grade-one hamstring tear in his side’s loss to Sydney Roosters nine days ago, has been undergoing intense rehabilitation to get himself fit but there are doubts over how quickly he can recover and what presence he may have on the training paddock.
Dugan has been slated as the direct replacement for Hayne but he, too, is carrying an ankle injury and will have scans on Monday to assess the severity of the ongoing complaint. The St George Illawarra fullback has starred since making his debut at the Dragons in round 10 and Blues officials won’t hesitate to bring him into the squad.
But the concern is he, like Hayne, won’t spend much time on the training paddock. And without playing in the opening game, he needs more time with his new teammates.
The uncertainty surrounding Dugan, Hayne and Gordon plus Brett Stewart’s extended stint on the sideline with a back injury plus Anthony Minichiello pledging his
allegiance to Italy has left NSW in a panic. Newcastle’s Akuila Uate is another sidelined with a rib injury.
In other news, it is understood Tim Grant is the preferred replacement for Cowboys front-rower James Tamou, who has been suspended after drink-driving and driving without a licence charges.
But Grant, too, is in doubt as he recovers from a broken hand. While Grant has declared he’ll be fit for Origin II he hasn’t played since round 11 but featured in two games for NSW last year.
If he, too, is ruled out, either Aiden Tolman or Aaron Woods will make their NSW debuts with NSW coach Laurie Daley hesitant to interrupt an interchange bench that was so effective in the series opener.
Of less concern is hooker Robbie Farah who is confident he’ll be fit.
Back-rower Anthony Watmough also sent a shockwave through the Blues camp after limping from the field midway through the second half in Manly’s golden-point loss to Canterbury on Friday night.
Watmough’s corked leg will be monitored but Bulldogs centre Josh Morris isn’t in any doubt.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.