Concussion threat gives Origin coaches headaches
NSW and Queensland officials are bracing for a weekend of the game's biggest stars playing Russian Roulette with their State of Origin chances under the league's new concussion protocols.
Any player who suffers a concussion in Sunday's two matches will be ruled out of Origin I in Adelaide, unable to return in time from the 11-day stand down.
That has the potential to impact the likes of Queensland captain Daly Cherry-Evans, Josh Addo-Carr, David Fifita, Josh Papali'i and Jake and Tom Trbojevic.
Beyond that, though, all other players are at risk of having their preparations significantly hampered this weekend and selection thrown into question.
Under the protocols, anyone diagnosed with a concussion is sidelined from any contact training for 10 days.
Players can apply for an exemption to the stand down, but would require to tick a number of boxes so far not met this year.
That would include no concussion symptoms the day after the knock, no recent prior concussions, a limited history of head knocks and the concussion not categorised as level-one by the independent doctor.
It means in all likelihood that a player who is concussed this Saturday would not be able to train until the captain's run on May 30, the day before Origin I.
A player who suffers a head knock on Friday could not return to training until two days before the game.
Even a Brisbane or Penrith player concussed in the round-12 opener on Thursday, would not be able to train for the entire first week of Origin camp.
The rules have the potential to create serious headaches for Blues and Maroons officials, with players also needing to graduate through several phases to return to play after 11 days.
Coaches Brad Fittler and Billy Slater will have to weigh up whether they would be willing to go through the build up without a player in training.
That would have the potential to impact both the individual's build up, as well as the entire team's cohesion.
Blues advisor Greg Alexander said he and Fittler had spoken briefly about what to do if a player was ruled out of training in the lead up to the series opener through a concussion this weekend.
"Absolutely you have to consider it in selection," Alexander told AAP.
"I don't think you can blanket rule it. Every concussion is out. But it would be very hard for that player to only have one day.
"It would make it very difficult to have a player just sit around for 11 days and wait."
Making the situation more complicated is that key players in the spine would have their absence missed most in preparations.
"It would be very hard to have Nathan Cleary sit out for 11 days," Alexander said.
"That's not saying you wouldn't pick him. But it would certainly make it challenging."