The State of Origin roadshow rolled into Perth on Tuesday, with New South Wales’ massive roll of the dice at the selection table finally being overshadowed by injury concerns in the Maroons camp.
Attention has now turned to Queensland setbacks after it was revealed prop Dylan Napa has suffered a broken wrist, while winger Dane Gagai has been quarantined with a virus.
The Blues made seven changes to the team that lost 18-14 in Origin I in Brisbane as coach Brad Fittler attempts to find a winning combination that can level the series.
NSW has won only two of the past 13 State of Origin series, with last year’s 2-1 triumph coming after a Queensland hat-trick from 2015.
It is the first Origin fixture to be played in Western Australia, with the state seeing the near sold-out game as a dress rehearsal for a possible NRL team bid in future years.
The Maroons revealed on Tuesday that Napa had suffered the fracture and would be nursed through the week in a bid for the Canterbury enforcer to prove his fitness for Sunday night’s State of Origin II.
Then it emerged Gagai – the two-try hero of Origin I – had been isolated from teammates.
Officials played down Gagai’s illness, saying he had been quarantined as a precaution.
The Maroons will be sweating on Napa, who underwent scans on Monday after complaining of a sore hand following the Bulldogs’ NRL loss to Sydney Roosters last weekend.
“Dylan has a small break in one of his wrist bones and we’re providing treatment to give him every chance to play,” Maroons doctor Matt Hislop said.
The Maroons’ forward depth is already being tested after losing Jai Arrow (ankle) and Joe Ofahengaue (knee) for game two.
Gold Coast prop Arrow will be sidelined for six to 12 weeks, while bench forward Ofahengaue will miss game two due to a knee gash suffered in Origin I.
If Napa is ruled out, Titans workhorse Jarrod Wallace is expected to start in the front row, with Melbourne’s Christian Welch set to make his Origin debut off the bench.
Welch was named as 18th man for Origin II.
Maroons prop Josh Papalii hinted that something was not right at Tuesday’s media session when he admitted Napa was no guarantee of starting.
I am not sure who is going to start yet. But if it’s Naps it will be exciting. He’s aggressive, he brings that fire you need in the team.’’
However, Papalii backed Wallace to step up if asked to start.
Wallace will be out to prove a point after being overlooked for game one following a quiet NRL season start with Gold Coast and criticism of his efforts in last year’s Origin series.
“I am 100 per cent confident about J-Wal’s return,” he said. “He has had his critics in the past, but stats don’t show what you do on the field.”
Meanwhile, former NSW skipper Paul Gallen said on Tuesday he was shocked by the omission of Latrell Mitchell from State of Origin II, calling it a “big loss”.
“I think it’s a big loss personally,” Gallen told AAP.
“Freddy’s the coach. He’s got to live and die by his decisions. I think it is a loss, but at the end of the day the decision has been made.”
Gallen believes Mitchell may get another chance, given his talent.
“Latrell’s just got to go back to club level and play good football there,” he said.
“He’s 22 years old, he’s a superstar of the game. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was back there for Game III. He’s that good.”
Gallen praised the selection of Newcastle Knights’ Daniel Saifiti, who will make his Origin debut on Sunday.
“Without a doubt he’s one of the biggest bolters in history,” he said.
“We saw his performance against Souths. He took on the Burgess boys single handedly.”
Gallen says Saifiti must perform in Origin the way he did against the Rabbitohs.
“It’s going to be a different environment for him,” he said.
“If he plays the way he played against the Burgess boys that night, he’ll handle it.”
For his part Saifiti knows what’s expected of him, hardness.
“I was pinching myself when I first got into camp,” Saifiti said.
“As soon as I spoke with Freddy (Fittler), he told me I was starting so I know I’ve got to be physical.
“That was his main message. I’ve already asked for the first hit up.”
STATE OF ORIGIN II
Sunday, 7pm, Optus Stadium, Perth
TV: Channel Nine