Origin blow: Another Maroons star sidelined for opener
Queensland's Origin hopes have been dealt another huge blow with Valentine Holmes to miss the series opener in Adelaide.
The North Queensland fullback accepted an early guilty plea for a grade-one shoulder charge which occurred during Thursday's XXXX Queensland Derby win over the Broncos.
The Cowboys on Monday confirmed the news and said he will now miss the November 4 Origin clash, should he be picked for Queensland.
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It's another big blow to Kevin Walters and his squad, after losing try scoring machine Kyle Feldt, Michael Morgan and Moses Mbye who have each ruled themselves out through injury.
Walters is expected to name a preliminary group in his extended squad this week, with players from clubs out of finals contention such as Brisbane, the Titans and the Cowboys.
Titans duo in the mix
Titans dynamo AJ Brimson says he is ready for a remarkable State of Origin debut as Queensland coach Kevin Walters prepares to name the first of his Maroons squad members for November's historic series.
Walters will this week name a preliminary group of players from clubs that will not take part in the upcoming NRL finals for Queensland's extended train-on squad.
The players will be required to continue training in preparation for the end-of-year Origin series which has been pushed back from its traditional mid-year slot, with a final squad of 27 to be selected following the October 25 grand final.
The improving Gold Coast Titans are set to be the big winners, with up to seven players in the mix for selection following a five-game winning streak to end the season.
After suffering a fractured back in the pre-season, Brimson secured his selection with an incredible two-try performance in the Gold Coast's 36-6 demolition of Newcastle on Friday night and said he was ready for league's toughest arena.
Unbelievable scenes from AJ Brimson 🤯 pic.twitter.com/sJ0CjRDsiG— Gold Coast Titans (@GCTitans) September 25, 2020
"You have to think you're ready," Brimson said.
"I believe in myself. I've been trying to put my hand up. If I'm there in the squad I will be stoked with that.
"I've never played wing in my life but I'll play lock if he wants me to.
"Any chance to represent your state, I'm a proud Queenslander. If he wanted me to play bench, wing, second row, whatever, I will put my hand up."
Walters is expected to name a large squad to cover for injuries in the lead-up to the three-game series.
The big losers are expected to be the Brisbane Broncos after the club collected its first wooden spoon on Thursday night.
While Walters could name players like Corey Oates, David Fifita, Joe Ofahengaue and Pat Carrigan, there is a genuine chance no Brisbane players will make the final cut.
Tigers hooker Harry Grant will be named following a breakout season along with Cowboys duo Valentine Holmes and Josh McGuire.
Brimson will be joined in the squad by Titans teammates Jai Arrow, Moeaki Fotuaika and Phil Sami while the late-season form of halfback Ash Taylor has not gone unnoticed by Walters, who could also select Jarrod Wallace and Corey Thompson.
"I am loving the resurgence of the Titans," Walters said.
"Fotuaika is very good in the pack and I'm liking the consistency of several players including Ash Taylor and AJ Brimson.
"We could see more Titans in the Origin team which is great. Ash Taylor has had his best year in ages and guys like Jai Arrow, Jarrod Wallace, AJ Brimson and Moe are all well and truly in the reckoning. I'm also looking at Phillip Sami who attended our emerging camp at the start of the year.
"AJ is an excitement machine, he keeps himself in the game and I love the way he pops up in support when it matters most. He has blistering speed off the mark and you can't coach that sort of stuff.
"I'm a big fan of guys wearing that No. 14 jumper and working their way into the side.
"Daly Cherry-Evans, Ben Hunt and Cooper Cronk have all done that so AJ can cover multiple positions. With the HIA (head injury assessment) rule today, you need a versatile guy and AJ is certainly that."
With the series opener to be played in Adelaide on November 4, players not participating in the finals will go six weeks between games, meaning training during the downtime will be pivotal.
After two straight series losses the Maroons have got some injury concerns, particularly in the centres, but Walters dismissed claims Queensland lacked depth.
"I'm not concerned at all about our depth," he said.
"NSW traditionally have a bigger pool but if you look at the guys who are coming through, we have some great talent ready to step up to play Origin.
"I don't agree with that, that NSW are the favourites. I think it's important to have the right balance in your squad, we are seeing some players get through the season, win the premiership and it's exhausting and they can't lift again for Australia in end of year Tests.
"I'm very confident in my staff and what our players can do mentally and physically though that period when they aren't playing to get it right. It is an advantage for us.
"Most of the players now are banged up, so sometimes a few weeks off can be a godsend for blokes carrying injuries to freshen them up.
"The Blues won't have all their guys in the finals."
POSSIBLE PRELIMINARY QUEENSLAND SQUAD
Players from teams not in NRL finals:
Cowboys - Valentine Holmes, Josh McGuire
Broncos - Corey Oates, David Fifita, Pat Carrigan, Joe Ofahengaue
Titans - Jai Arrow, Moeaki Fotuaika, AJ Brimson, Phil Sami, Ash Taylor, Jarrod Wallace, Corey Thompson
Tigers - Moses Mbye, Harry Grant
Sea Eagles - Daly Cherry-Evans (c)
Dragons - Ben Hunt, Corey Norman, Josh Kerr
Bulldogs - Dylan Napa