Kevin Walters has left the door ajar for Billy Slater to be welcomed back into the Queensland line-up for State of Origin II and also indicated strongly that Johnathan Thurston will be passed fit to play.
Faced with having to win in Sydney to save the series, the Maroons coach said he was open to recalling the Melbourne veteran despite dumping him for last week’s game one loss to NSW.
After back-to-back shoulder reconstructions, Slater – widely considered one of the great modern day fullbacks – was overlooked for game one in favour of Brisbane skipper Darius Boyd.
But after Queensland suffered their worst home defeat to the Blues, Walters is under pressure to make changes.
Slater has been superb since his return this year and Walters said his performance in the Storm’s 40-12 rout of last-placed Newcastle had put him in the frame.
“There’s no concern with Billy Slater,” Walters told Sky Sports Radio on Monday.
“We’ve just seen him get better and better. That’s what we hoped would happen with Billy. He’s right back in the frame now for game two.”
Walters also rated North Queensland playmaker Thurston a 70 per cent chance of resuming his place in the Queensland side after missing game one with a shoulder injury.
Thurston was replaced by Anthony Milford in the series opener and is racing the clock having not played since the May 5 Anzac Test in Canberra.
“He’s not over the line as yet. He’s got to do some more stuff around his rehabilitation in Townsville,” Walters said.
“He’s hopeful of playing (for North Queensland) this weekend. If he plays this weekend and comes through, then that’s no dramas.”
Walters also said he was open to selecting Coen Hess despite the North Queensland young gun’s insistence he wasn’t ready for rugby league’s toughest arena.
With Nate Myles struggling with an elbow injury and the likes of Jacob Lillyman and Aidan Guerra under pressure to hold their spots, the 20-year-old has burst into the frame.
He has grabbed attention after scoring nine tries in the opening 13 rounds – the fourth most in the competition and the most of any forward.
Hess said he was unsure if he was ready for Origin after just 21 first grade games however Walters said he was being considered.
“I think he was just being a little bit humble, which is a good sign because you don’t want to be throwing yourself out there that you’re the next big thing in Origin,” Walters said.
“That only brings you undone, doesn’t it?”