NSW captain Paul Gallen is set to move up front in Origin II after Blues coach Laurie Daley decided to opt for Josh Dugan at right-centre rather than shift backrower Beau Scott wider in defence.
Dugan is understood to have convinced Daley he is the man to replace the injured Josh Morris (knee) with his three-try haul for St George Illawarra in Saturday's night's 30-0 demolition of a Cronulla team misssing Gallen, NSW bench forward Luke Lewis and another 11 regular first-graders.
As a result, Parramatta centre Will Hopoate is expected to edge out Newcastle's James McManus for the right-wing berth made vacant by the dislocated and fractured shoulder injury suffered by Brett Morris in the Blues' series opening 12-8 win over Queensland at Suncorp Stadium.
The decision to bring in two new faces to replace the Morris twins means that a forward has to make way for Greg Bird, who was unavailable for Origin I through suspension, and either Trent Merrin or Tony Williams are tipped to be the unlucky player omitted in the only unforced change to the squad.
Daley had planned to pick Gallen in the front row for Origin I until Bird was suspended and Roosters international Boyd Cordner ruled out with a knee injury. Gallen started the match at lock but played like a front-rower, making more runs (22) and more metres (170m) than any forward on either team.
According to a statistical breakdown of Gallen's performance by SportsData, 20 of Gallen's runs were hit-ups and he made 160m from his charges with the ball. The Sharks skipper also led the way for metres after contact (43m) among the NSW and Queensland forwards, and made two tackle breaks, offloading both times.
Without the ball, Gallen made eight supporting runs and five decoy runs in a 70-minute effort, in which he also completed 33 tackles. With Gallen to start in the front row, Australian prop James Tamou is likely to shift to the interchange bench as he did in last month's trans-Tasman Test against New Zealand.
The Blues side will be announced at a corporate lunch at ANZ Stadium on Tuesday but Fairfax Media understands Tamou will join Lewis, Anthony Watmough and Merrin or Williams on the interchange bench. Merrin made 40m from seven hit-ups in Origin I and had another seven supporting or decoy runs, while completing 18 tackles in his 34 minutes of action.
Williams gained 39m from four runs and made one decoy run and three supporting runs, as well as eight tackles, in the 25 minutes he was on the field. With Gallen (neck) and Lewis (knee) missing Cronulla's match on Saturday night, Daley wanted to check on the health of his players before announcing the team, but Fairfax Media understands he has settled on a line-up he believes can end the Maroons' eight-year winning streak at ANZ Stadium on June 18.
The biggest selection issue for Daley has been who will play opposite Greg Inglis at right-centre and it is believed he will consider swapping star fullback Jarryd Hayne with Dugan at stages of the match if necessary. Dugan played fullback in the second and third matches of last year's series, after Hayne was ruled out with a hamstring injury, and played just his second game at centre for the Dragons on Saturday night. Afterwards, the 23-year-old was coy about his selection chances, but St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor, who will run the messages for the Blues in game two, said Dugan would be comfortable playing centre in Origin.
“That’s up to Laurie and the selectors," Dugan said. "I just have to wait for selection. I’m not going to worry about it too much. If the call does come, I’ll do my best for the state. It’ll mean the world. That’s what you strive for as a player."
Asked if he would tell Daley that Dugan can play centre, McGregor said simply: "I always tell the truth."
NSW team (likely): Jarryd Hayne; Will Hopoate, Josh Dugan, Michael Jennings, Daniel Tupou; Josh Reynolds, Trent Hodkinson; Aaron Woods, Robbie Farah, Paul Gallen (c), Ryan Hoffman, Beau Scott, Greg Bird. James Tamou, Anthony Watmough, Luke Lewis, Tony Williams/Trent Merrin.