Tony Williams has been told he must feature for Manly this weekend to be picked for the State of Origin decider but is caught in a wrangle over club and state priorities, with the Sea Eagles insisting it is too risky to play him so soon.
It is understood NSW coach Ricky Stuart phoned the injured Manly back-rower to let him know he needs to play against the Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium to be considered for Origin III at Suncorp Stadium on July 4.
Stuart's team for the hugely anticipated showdown in Brisbane will be announced at 5pm Sunday, soon after full-time in the Roosters-Sea Eagles round 16 NRL game.
Williams, absent since the first game of the Origin series with a back injury, is the Blues' first choice to replace club teammate Glenn Stewart, who is out for at least three weeks with a torn medical ligament.
Melbourne's Ryan Hoffman and St George Illawarra's Beau Scott are the other leading contenders to slot in for Stewart but both lack the sheer potential for impact that Williams possesses.
The Bulldogs-bound forward has returned to running in training but Stuart's insistence he make a surprise comeback in order to be chosen for NSW may ultimately put a line through Williams for the Origin decider.
Manly did not name the 23-year-old in its line-up to face the Roosters and coach Geoff Toovey indicated last night Williams would not be considered as a late addition.
''He only started jogging again late last week, so I think he's a bit off. He didn't play for seven weeks then he goes to State of Origin and gets injured and hasn't played for six weeks. You've got to be crazy. That will be like three months since he's played,'' Toovey told Fairfax.
Stuart was not available for comment. Williams was parachuted into his side for an Origin debut in game one last month having not played since March due to a lengthy suspension imposed early in the season.
As a result of that ban - and the back injury he sustained in Origin I - Williams has not played for the Sea Eagles since their round three defeat to Cronulla.
Toovey is aware of the Blues' desire to have Williams in their ranks at Suncorp Stadium but said the player's recovery was paramount.
''I wouldn't put any player at risk just because of State of Origin,'' he said.
''You've got his long-term future to look after, a responsibility of duty of care to the player. Our medical staff … wouldn't do that and we wouldn't allow it as coaches. He hasn't fully rested and recovered from the injury.
''If you bring them back too early you're damned, but if you don't bring them back too early you miss out. If you bring back a player too early, all of a sudden they're out for another month.''
Williams last month signed a four-year contract with the Bulldogs and will join them in the off-season, but while he is still at Brookvale he is a key cog in Manly's drive for back-to-back premierships.
The candidacy of Hoffman, meanwhile, received the support yesterday of Peter Sterling, the former NSW halfback.