League: Blues Origin hopefuls get one last chance

NSW coach Laurie Daley. Photo / Getty Images
NSW coach Laurie Daley. Photo / Getty Images

NSW hopefuls have just one more week to force their way into the Blues lineup for State of Origin game one, with coach Laurie Daley determined to have his squad settled after this weekend.

Daley, who last week said he had decided on all but two of the 17 positions for the June 5 series opener, says recent rounds have cleared his mind on some of the trickier selection dilemmas.

And with skipper Paul Gallen cleared of a medial ligament tear on Monday, Daley's focus is now on locking down the remaining spots in his team - which will follow discussions with chief selector Bob Fulton and last year's coach Ricky Stuart.

"I'm still determining the make up of the side but I'm not too far away," Daley said on Monday.

"I've got a clearer picture on where we want to go and who we want to use.

"I'll speak to Bob Fulton and I'll probably speak to Ricky over the coming days (to) get their input on things and go from there.

"I am determined to be pretty settled on what I want after this weekend's round of football.

"That will give me two weeks to know exactly where we're going."

The key position under the spotlight remains five-eighth, with selectors understood to be leaning towards Sydney Roosters' James Maloney in order to preserve his club combination with guaranteed No.7 Mitchell Pearce.

But incumbent Todd Carney from Cronulla, South Sydney's John Sutton and Canterbury tyro Josh Reynolds could all come into consideration with big games this weekend.

The Blues back-row appears more settled, with Gallen, Manly's Anthony Watmough, Gold Coast enforcer Greg Bird and Cronulla's Luke Lewis likely to occupy four of the starting and bench spots.

But the same cannot be said for the front-row, with only North Queensland's Test star James Tamou a certain starter.

That leaves the likes of Tim Grant, Trent Merrin, Tim Mannah, Aaron Woods, Aiden Tolman, Willie Mason and Andrew Fifita battling it out for the other starting prop role and bench spots.

Mannah and Fifita thrust their names forward with courageous efforts on the weekend.

Fifita outshone Mason on Sunday, running for a staggering 251 metres for Cronulla and stepping up after Gallen had left the field with a knee injury just three minutes into the match.

Mannah showcased his ironman qualities by overcoming what was initially feared to be a broken leg to take on Test props Matt Scott and Tamou just five days later.

He led the Eels in both metres gained (119) and tackles (44) in the four-point loss, earning special praise from Stuart and most likely catching the eye of Daley too.

Mannah, while loath to talk himself up, believed he was ready for another Origin call-up to add to his four appearances in 2010-11.

"I feel I'm a lot better player now than I was in 2011 when I last played," Mannah told AAP.

"Not only with my form, which I feel is better than (in 2011), but I feel a lot more experienced and a lot more confident to be able to handle the demands of Origin footy.

"It's something that's driven me for the last few months and I definitely want to be able to put my hand up and be ready if I get the call up."


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