Michael Chammas June 30, 2012
Out … Billy Slater. Photo: Brendan Esposito
BILLY SLATER described it as one of the toughest decisions of his career to pull out of Wednesday night's series decider with a knee injury.
In a dramatic day for the Maroons, Slater withdrew from the match at Suncorp Stadium, while David Taylor and Matt Bowen were sent home to their respective NRL clubs, told they weren't part of Mal Meninga's plans for the final game of the series.
But it's Slater's self-omission from the match that is the biggest talking point. The Storm fullback, who suffered a posterior cruciate ligament injury in the second game of the series, at ANZ Stadium, has been working around the clock to prove his fitness.
He's played 14 consecutive games for the Maroons, having last missed an Origin match in 2007, but he has been forced to watch his teammates fight for a seventh-straight series win from the sidelines.
''This was without a doubt one of the toughest and most frustrating decisions I have ever had to make,'' Slater said. ''It just didn't feel right when I ran and I knew it wasn't going to be right, so I decided to do the right thing for my teammates and my own personal welfare by making myself unavailable.
''We didn't leave any stone unturned and I'm comfortable that we did everything we possibly could to get it right, but we were always racing the clock and there just wasn't enough time before Origin three."
Slater's withdrawal has handed the in-form Greg Inglis his first crack at fullback in a Maroons jumper. ''I'm very excited but at the same time I'm trying to keep all that excitement within myself until Wednesday night and go out there and do the best I can for the team,'' Inglis said.
''[Mal] just came up to me and said, 'You're the man for the job, you're wearing the No.1' and I just said, 'Righto'.'' Meninga then asked whether he was capable of doing the job. ''I just said, 'I think I can handle it'. We had a bit of a joke around.
''Obviously Bill would've done everything he can to be fit for this game but he made a very hard decision. It's very hard to rule yourself out, but obviously he felt that his knee wasn't quite up to the performance he would've liked.''
Taylor will fly back to Sydney today and rejoin his Rabbitohs teammates for tomorrow's clash with Penrith at ANZ Stadium, before reuniting with the Maroons in Brisbane next week.
Bowen has flown straight to New Zealand to meet up with the rest of the North Queensland Cowboys, who have arrived in Auckland in preparation for tomorrow afternoon's match against the Warriors.
Prop Matt Scott missed the early days of camp to attend the funeral of his mother, Dianne, who died last Thursday night after a battle with thyroid cancer.
Scott will play in the decider but Meninga hasn't decided whether the Cowboys front-rower will remain in the run-on side.
''We'll see how Matty Scott feels at the back end of the week,'' Meninga said. ''Then we'll make some decision on who we put on the bench.''