Race against time ... Billy Slater. Photo: Getty Images
QUEENSLAND are destined to roll the dice on injured fullback Billy Slater, and surround him with an extended supporting cast, as they try to unearth the combinations to win next week's Origin decider at Suncorp Stadium.
Slater hasn't played since injuring his posterior cruciate ligament in Queensland's loss to the Blues in Sydney in game two. He finished the game encumbered by the sore knee and was rated little chance of taking part in Origin III.
Sports doctors and surgeons have warned Slater of the risks of returning early but such is his importance to Queensland that he will be named in the team this afternoon at Coolum and given every chance of proving his fitness.
If Slater falls short, the Blues are likely to be kept guessing as to his eventual replacement. The Maroons are tipped to name a squad of 20 players for game three, trimmed from 21 after Ashley Harrison's withdrawal with a broken big toe.
Harrison would have been included if there was some hope he would pull through, but multiple fractures in his big toe, which he damaged in Gold Coast's loss to St George Illawarra, ruled him out.
''I wouldn't be able to run all week. Then I'd have to needle it and hope it did the trick. The wisest thing for me to do is withdraw,'' Harrison said.
Brisbane lock Corey Parker is a certainty to take the No.13 jumper and deserves nothing less after a monster showing against South Sydney on Friday night.
Should Slater fail to show significant improvement during the opening days of training camp, Queensland coach Mal Meninga will have some options at his disposal.
North Queensland fullback Matt Bowen's Origin experience and versatility is likely to win him back-up duties over Ben Barba, who made a compelling claim with his performance for Canterbury at the weekend.
It is also believed Melbourne centre Dane Nielsen will be drafted into camp, giving Meninga the option to swing Greg Inglis to fullback and send the Storm three-quarter into the centres.
Bowen's ability to fill in at dummy half makes him a viable bench option and he may be joined by Brisbane's Ben Te'o, who was spotted leaving Broncos HQ yesterday before training as teammates subtly told him to "go get 'em".
Te'o's inclusion puts Dave Taylor on firm notice. He made little dent in the opening Origin games and toiled hard against Brisbane without ever looking like doing serious damage.
Slater aside, Queensland enter their final preparation with some niggles, including the shoulder injury that kept Sam Thaiday out of Origin II. Justin Hodges hurt his ribs against Souths but sources indicated the damage was minimal.
LIKELY QUEENSLAND SQUAD: Billy Slater, Darius Boyd, Greg Inglis, Justin Hodges, Brent Tate, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Matt Scott, Cameron Smith (c), Petero Civoniceva, Nate Myles, Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker. Interchange Ben Te'o, Dave Taylor, Dane Nielsen, Matt Gillett, Matt Bowen, Ben Hannant, David Shillington (three to be omitted).