Daly Cherry-Evans of the Sea Eagles receives attention from a trainer after a tackle by Sam Kasiano. Photo: Getty Images
Mal Meninga doesn't believe NSW will deliberately target the injured knee of halfback Daly Cherry-Evans as the Queensland playmaker prepares to play through the pain against NSW at ANZ Stadium.
Cherry-Evans took a giant leap towards selection when he completed the final Maroon training session late on Tuesday, running freely with his knee strapped and ticking every box required to be given the green light by Maroons medical staff.
The final decision will be left to him but if he pulls up well on game day, he will take his place at the base of the Maroons scrum as Queensland try to keep their eight-year Origin domination alive and send it to a decider in Brisbane.
Racing the clock ... Maroons halfback Daly Cherry-Evans. Photo: Getty Images
Despite suggestions from NSW it was all mind games, the reality within the Maroons camp was that Cherry-Evans was touch and go after injuring his knee in game one, then re-injuring it as Bulldog Sam Kasiano dived at his legs as he tried to charge down a kick in an NRL game.
The Manly playmaker grimaced in pain after the ugly challenge, his Origin prospects in severe doubt, in a moment that showed just how frail he might be should he sustain a heavy knock against the Blues.
But Meninga said he doubted NSW would resort to those tactics and trusted Cherry-Evans to stand up to any punishment if he declared himself fit to play.
"I don’t think that was intentional, it was one of those awkward moments," Meninga said. "John (Thurston) and Daly will be targeted, as will their six and seven. That's the nature of the beast.
"That's why we need to make a really smart decision and why we rely on Daly to make that decision. Both teams are very competitive. They love the aggression and contact of our sport."
Any injury to Cherry-Evans would be an unmitigated disaster for the Maroons, who floundered for half and hour after Cooper Cronk broke his arm before the 10 minute mark of game one at Suncorp Stadium.
If he does play, it poses the question as to whether the Maroons play a utility on their bench, a tactic Meninga will try to resist given his preference to carry four forwards as interchange players.
Broncos halfback Ben Hunt is an option, as is Anthony Milford, but Queensland don't have the luxury of carrying a player that may not even get on the park in what promises to be an unrelenting game of rugby league following an epic and brutal game one.
It opens the door for a return of Dave Taylor, the prodigal son of the Maroons and a man Meninga feels has come back a far better and fitter player after his six-game cameo that ended when he was dropped for game three in 2012.
"He's fit, he's confident, he's doing the little things much better these days," Meninga said. "He understands this is a second coming for him in a way. I think he'll play really well. I think he's right to go."
Billy Slater (shoulder) has already been declared fit while Greg Inglis (ankle) will line up in the centres opposite Josh Dugan, a match-up the Queenslanders feel they can exploit if Dugan has an off night in his new position.
Likely Qld team Billy Slater, Brent Tate, Justin Hodges, Greg Inglis, Darius Boyd, Johnathan Thurston, Daly Cherry-Evans, Matt Scott, Cameron Smith (c), Nate Myles, Sam Thaiday, Matt Gillett, Aiden Guerra Interchange Ben Te'o, Dave Taylor, Jacob Lillyman, Chris McQueen.