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Josh Morris set for early return to replace Michael Jennings for NSW Blues

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Canterbury stars Josh Morris and Tony Williams are set to return to the NSW team for Origin III after centre Michael Jennings and interchange forward Anthony Watmough were ruled out through injury and suspension.

The pair were members of the Blues team that held out Queensland 12-8 in the series opener at Suncorp Stadium and NSW coach Laurie Daley has indicated he wants the players who have helped win the series to be present when skipper Paul Gallen is presented with the Origin shield after the third game on July 9. Morris missed last Wednesday night's series-clinching 6-4 win at ANZ Stadium due to a knee injury from Origin I, while Williams was 18th man after being dropped to make way for the return from suspension of Test forward Greg Bird.

Both were in camp with the NSW team before the match, along with injured winger Brett Morris, and joined the Blues players in the celebrations after their historic win. With Sydney Roosters medical staff confirming on Friday that Jennings had suffered a torn Latissimus dorsi muscle in his upper left arm, Morris is expected to play left centre for the Blues, while Williams will replace Watmough on the bench after the Manly back-rower was suspended for four matches at Thursday night's judiciary for a lifting tackle in Origin II.

Jennings' injury is considered rare in the NRL and he has told officials he can't recall when it occured after finishing the match without the Blues staff being aware he was hurt. He also did not show any symptoms of the injury during the post-match celebrations but that is thought to be due to adrenaline after playing in a match he said afterwards was on par with last year's grand final win with the Roosters. However, Jennings underwent scans late Thursday and while he does not require surgery he will be sidelined for six weeks.  

In good news for NSW, winger Will Hopoate has been cleared of a serious injury and is expected to play for Parramatta against Melbourne on Sunday, despite playing the entire second half with his right shoulder hanging by his side. Hopoate needed painkillers at half-time and Blues officials privately assumed he would not be available for Origin III.

As a result, Daley is certain to stick with his right-side pairing from Origin II of Josh Dugan and Hopoate, with Morris to return on the opposite side of the field to where he played in the series opener. The Test centre won't play a match before Origin as the Bulldogs have a bye next weekend but he has told NSW officials he will be fit for Origin III.

Canterbury officials are uncertain if they would pick Morris for their round 17 match against Manly on July 4 if he was not on Blues duty but thought he was a good chance of being available for Origin five days later. If fit, Morris will be one of the first players chosen by Daley after his heroic performance at right centre in Origin I in which he pushed off NSW physiotherapist Liz Steet to make a try-saving tackle on opposite number Greg Inglis just seconds after being told he had suffered cruciate damage in his knee.

Morris usually plays left centre for the Bulldogs but he shifted to the right side in Origin I to play alongside brother Brett, who also defied a fractured and dislocated shoulder to make a try-saving tackle on Darius Boyd in the dying minutes.

Blues coaching staff were pleased with the performance of Dugan, who made five tackle breaks in his 16 runs with the ball, from which he made 113 metres. Dugan also alleviated any concerns about his defence by making 23 tackles and he statistics from Sportsdata show he had only one missed tackle on Inglis. St George Illawarra officials say Brett Morris is not due back until round 21, ruling out any chance of him being available for Origin III.

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