Ryan Matterson's versatility could be decisive in the State of Origin selection race with the in-form Parramatta lock certain he is ready to end a three-year wait for his first NSW jersey.
Matterson is firming as a chance to claim the Blues' No.14 jersey when coach Brad Fittler unveils his side for Game I on Sunday as NSW battle injuries on several fronts.
South Sydney captain Cameron Murray will make a last-ditch effort to prove his fitness by playing on Saturday, while Isaah Yeo will be the man to start at lock for the Blues.
But injuries to Victor Radley and Ryan Papenhuyzen leave Matterson as a likely pick on the bench, with the Eels star in the best form of his career.
The off-contract 27-year-old has thrived in his move to the middle from the edge, able to act in a ball-playing role similar to his time as a five-eighth growing up while also becoming one of the NRL's best offloaders.
"The fact is he defended at centre for a bit as well (on Friday night against Manly)," Fittler said.
"One of the big things you notice is people are being sin-binned, HIAs, injuries. You need to be able to cover. That will definitely work in his favour.
"But at the moment it is a bit of a puzzle, so we're sticking with using a pencil (and not a pen in selection meetings)."
If Matterson is selected, it will come three years after being told by Fittler he would debut in Game II of the 2019 series in Perth.
With Tyson Frizell battling a neck injury at the time, Matterson warmed up believing he was going to play.
Frizell subsequnetly passed a last-minute fitness test to recover and leave the Eel as 18th man.
"It's the closest I have gone to playing," Matterson said.
"I was kind of stressing, because I needed boots. I rolled my ankle the day before.
"So I was getting physio all day thinking 'oh my God, I'm not even fully fit'.
"But I was going to do whatever I could to play, because obviously the Origin arena, the adrenaline pumps you up and you want to play."
Regardless, the brush with Origin has left a motivated Matterson knowing he is good enough and ready to represent NSW if called upon again.
"It was good to be close, but what can you do?" Matterson said.
"It's every kid's dream to pull on the Blues jersey.
"I have felt ready for a while. But opportunities arise and Freddy chooses his best 17.
"NSW have done awesome in all the series. If a side isn't losing, they won't change it.
"You have to bide your time and focus on club football."
Australian Associated Press
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