Three men and a baby could decide the State of Origin series.
Queensland could be without three-quarters of its spine for game two following revelations injuries to Cameron Smith and Billy Slater are worse than first thought. And in what could be a devastating blow to the Cane Toads’ chances of keeping alive their unprecedented eight-year run, Greg Inglis could pull out of the game to attend the birth of his first child.
Cooper Cronk is a certain scratching from the remainder of the series and is facing up to three months on the sidelines after suffering a fractured ulna and dislocated radioulnar joint in an epic opening game.
It was thought Melbourne teammates Slater and Smith would be odds-on to play in the ANZ Stadium rematch. Slater was diagnosed with a grade-two, AC-joint sprain that would keep him out for two to three weeks, while Smith’s high ankle sprain was expected to sideline him for one or two games after he was assessed by Storm medicos.
The hardened veteran is believed to be keen to play through the pain to help the weakened side against North Queensland in Townsville on Saturday night.
But in the worst-case scenario, both players could be out for three to four weeks.
The news will come as a huge blow to a Maroons outfit still counting the cost of a draining loss at Suncorp Stadium. While Inglis was expected to shift from the centres to fullback should Slater be ruled out, there is no guarantee he will be there either.
The South Sydney star and his wife, Sally, expect to become parents about June 18, the same date as the next interstate encounter. Should Inglis, a mainstay of the Maroons during their eight-year run, choose to be at the birth rather than the game, NSW’s chances of finally wrenching the trophy from their grasp will improve dramatically.
‘‘[Being a dad] means a lot,’’ Inglis said in February. ‘‘We’re just fortunate enough and blessed that Sally is carrying a bundle of joy. This is a massive year for me off the field, there’s no doubt about that, as all fathers will say, but it’s exciting times. It’s another exciting season ahead.’’
When pressed on his priorities, the Rabbitohs No.1 said: ‘‘We will have to wait and see when it comes. I’m ready for the sleepless nights, I’m having them already.’’ The ‘‘will he or won’t he play’’ drama will only add to the build-up in one of the most-anticipated Origin matches of all time. There was similar theatre around the only certain starter in the Queensland spine, Johnathan Thurston, last year.
The Cowboys playmaker and Samantha Lynch were expecting their first born on the same date as Origin I. However, he played in a record 25th consecutive match and was still present for the birth of daughter Frankie.
Daly Cherry-Evans, thrust into the halfback role when Cronk suffered his injury nine minutes in, will wear the No.7 jersey for the Maroons. He, too, is injured and in doubt for Manly’s clash in Brisbane on Sunday, but is tipped to play in Origin II.
If he doesn’t, the Maroons could use Inglis, if available, in the halves and shift Darius Boyd to fullback. Or they could be forced to call up Brisbane’s Ben Hunt or Canberra’s Anthony Milford.
Meanwhile, the NRL announced on Friday that the Storm would be served with a $10,000 breach notice – $5000 of it suspended – because coach Craig Bellamy failed to attend the post-match press conference after the win over Manly.