Hurt Slater can help shoulder the burden
Champion fullback Billy Slater will not be able to pull on his well-worn No.1 jumper for Queensland this year, but rookie coach Kevin Walters still wants him to play a role for the Maroons as they chase another series victory against New South Wales.
The Melbourne Storm, Queensland and Australian fullback is expected to be sidelined for up to eight months after having shoulder surgery in Sydney on Tuesday.
Slater played in the Storm's round-one win over St George Illawarra, but withdrew from last weekend's match against the Titans due to the injury.
He missed the final third of last season because of a problem with the same shoulder.
Walters, who has taken the Origin reins from record-breaking coach Mal Meninga, told Australian Regional Media he was keen to have Slater in camp to help him plot a Maroon victory.
"It makes a lot of sense to have Billy involved in our camp," said Walters, adding selectors had plenty of fullback options with Greg Inglis and Darius Boyd, and even Cronulla's Ben Barba, who has thrust himself back into the Origin frame with a great start to 2016.
"Billy has so much Origin experience and he is just a great footy guy to have around the place," Walters added. "He's got a great, balanced look on life and I know even though he can't play he could still be an invaluable member of the team - it's something we are already looking at.
"From a tactical point of view it would be great to have Billy's input and, provided it fits in with his rehab, we want him in camp with us."
Walters said regardless of what happened on the injury front, the season-long Origin bans imposed on Cameron Munster, Valentine Holmes and Roosters enforcer Dylan Napa were "set in concrete".
"I can't go back on that," the coach said.
Walters also said he wasn't worried about the poor form of Queensland players such as Manly teammates Nate Myles and Daly Cherry-Evans.
"We've seen Queensland pick players from reserve grade ... remember Arthur Beetson in the first game?" he said.
"All the guys who've played Origin understand what's required at that level, and sometimes players who aren't at their best at clubland lift when they get into the Origin domain with the great players around them."
Walters said Brisbane Broncos winger Corey Oates was certainly a chance of pulling on a Queensland jumper this year once he returned from his latest shoulder injury.
"I think if Corey continues on his current pathway, he's heading in the right direction.
"He's in a good system at the Broncos, obviously he's under a pretty good coach there (Wayne Bennett), and he's got good players around him."