Queensland fullback Billy Slater will miss Wednesday’s State of Origin opener in Melbourne due to a hamstring injury.
The Maroons veteran struggled to recover from a training session on the Gold Coast on Sunday. His absence is just another blow for a Queensland side missing retired stars Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston for the first time.
Slater, who has announced his retirement from representative football at the conclusion of this year’s Origin campaign, said on Monday afternoon (local time) that it would have been selfish to put his hand up for selection given his hamstring issue.
“I didn’t pull up as well as I would have liked after our training run on Sunday,” he said.
“Because I’m not 100 per cent, it’s in my best interests as well as the team’s to withdraw from Wednesday’s game.”
Queensland coach Kevin Walters has drafted Brisbane’s Anthony Milford and Newcastle young gun Kalyn Ponga into his squad for game one of the three-match series.
Walters said that it was always an option that Slater – who missed an NRL match last month as a precaution – might miss out.
“We knew we had some concerns with Billy,” he said.
“But he’s a champion player and we needed to give him every chance to play.
“We’ve had plans in place to cover Billy if he didn’t come up right and we’ve actioned that today with Anthony and Kalyn coming in.”
Queensland veteran Darius Boyd was a surprise omission from Walters’ initial squad and was not called on despite Slater’s injury.
The Maroons will be captained by Greg Inglis in 2018 and enter as outsiders despite a superb recent record that has seen them win 11 of the past 12 series’.
NSW picked 11 Origin debutants in its squad for Wednesday’s match but is still favourite, with coach Brad Fittler calling on a host of in-form NRL men to help the Blues start the 2018 series with victory.