Billy Slater almost certain to miss Origin decider
GREG PRICHARD AND STEVE MASCORD
Whatever faint hope there was of Billy Slater recovering in time to play for Queensland in the State of Origin decider appears to be gone, judging by Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy's comments after the Storm were beaten by Canterbury in Mackay yesterday.
Asked if he thought Slater, who injured his knee in game two, could make it back in time for the game against NSW on July 4, Bellamy said: ''All our medical opinion is that he wouldn't be ready to do it, and there's a bit of opinion come out now that, if he does [play], he could do long-term damage. That's got to be taken into account.
''Hopefully, commonsense prevails. We don't want to stop him playing if he's right to play but, at the end of the day, he's got a lot of footy ahead of him this year, and in future years. If he's right for it, 100 per cent, then we haven't got any problem there. [But], as I said, our medical opinion, our advice, is that he's going to struggle.''
Leading orthopaedic surgeon Peter Myers was quoted in a newspaper yesterday saying Slater risked further damage to his knee if he played three weeks after damaging the posterior cruciate ligament.
''Billy risks reinjuring it,'' Myers said. ''There's no way in the world that it will have healed well enough in three weeks to play rugby league. I must say I have not personally assessed Billy but, generally speaking, PCL injuries will not be ready in three weeks.''
It remains to be seen whether Queensland coach Mal Meninga and the rest of the Maroons selectors go for North Queensland's Matt Bowen, South Sydney's Greg Inglis or Canterbury's Ben Barba as fullback in Slater's place when they name the team tomorrow.
''I am still not 100 per cent settled on what our plan B will be if Billy doesn't make it,'' Meninga said in his newspaper column yesterday.
''In my mind, I know the option NSW would least like to see is Greg Inglis at fullback.
''Greg has been fantastic for Souths at the back, and the prospect of him touching the ball more often is enticing.
''But I still worry about how moving him out of the centres will disrupt the team dynamic. He is such an important player for us at centre, I am reluctant to tinker with that too much.''
Barba, who is yet to play Origin, put his hand up for consideration with a great display for the Bulldogs in their win over the Storm.
Queensland will also have to check injuries to Justin Hodges (rib), Ashley Harrison (toe), Ben Hannant (quadriceps) and Sam Thaiday (shoulder) before naming their team.