Boost for Blues as T wrecks Roosters
After giving NSW a huge boost with a stunning comeback performance yesterday, Tony Williams provided more hope by predicting Glenn Stewart would also be fit for what he described as the biggest game of his career.
Williams, who wore No.22 in a man-of-the-match effort for Manly, was named alongside Stewart in a 19-man Blues squad for Origin but is certain to play off the interchange bench regardless of the fitness of his injured club teammate.
St George Illawarra back-rower Beau Scott was also added to the NSW team but he is expected to play only if Williams and Stewart are ruled out. Dragons teammate Ben Creagh is likely to make way if both men are declared fit.
The only other change from the team that levelled the series by beating Queensland 16-12 in Origin II was the axing of Newcastle winger Akuila Uate for St George Illawarra fullback Brett Morris.
Williams, who was playing his first game since suffering stress fractures to his back in Origin I and just his fourth match for Manly this season, said he would be better prepared for the July 4 series decider after playing 80 minutes yesterday.
''I am just grateful to get in for this game and it has given me a lot of confidence to have played this game today,'' the man nicknamed ''T-Rex'' told the Herald after the Sea Eagles' 52-14 demolition of Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium yesterday.
''I always made it a goal for myself to play every game [of the series] but I couldn't make that second game and now I've got the chance to play the third game, so I'm just happy I got there. It means a lot to me, I can't explain it - it is something massive, it is one of the highlights of my career. It is just as good as a grand final.''
After training on Saturday, Williams had to prove his fitness to Sea Eagles coach Geoff Toovey yesterday morning before being cleared to play. He took just 21 minutes to convince Stuart to pick him.
Watching from a private box with Blues chief adviser Bob Fulton, Stuart was impressed as the giant back-rower brushed off two defenders to put Jorge Taufua over in just the fourth minute, and then laid on a 21st-minute try for Steve Matai with a perfectly weighted chip kick.
''I was very impressed,'' Stuart said. ''He played 80 minutes and I think his touches were the assists for the first two tries, so he has played himself into a spot there today.
''I left with 10 minutes to go but he had played 70 minutes and I thought he was very instrumental for Manly in a number of areas, not just the try assists, but some parts of his game where he took some tough rucks.
''I was really impressed by how much he got through. It is a credit to Manly's conditioners and the staff there to get a guy who hasn't played a lot of football over the season to play 80 minutes today. It was a good blow-out for him today fitness-wise, and he just gives us a different style.''
Manly officials believe Stewart is unlikely to be fit for Origin III but Williams was upbeat about the star back-rower's chances of playing. ''I wouldn't be surprised,'' Williams said. ''I have a lot of faith in Glenn coming back. I know him and he's pretty good when it comes to injuries, so hopefully he can get through it.''
Stuart said he might delay finalising the NSW team until the day of the game to give Stewart every chance to prove his fitness.
''I was talking to him the other day and he is is still a little bit unsure,'' Stuart said. ''I don't want to put a time frame on it; it is just a matter of being clear on the chances he has of playing. We just want him to come in and we will assess it over the next two or three days. He is coming out of the brace and I just think, in respect to Glenn, that he deserves every opportunity.''