Queensland, NSW can February Origin camps

Troy Whittaker |

Rookie Queensland coach Billy Slater will rely on smaller group catch-ups to form an early bond with his State of Origin players after cancelling a training camp next month.

Like their NSW counterparts, the Maroons on Wednesday confirmed they had scrapped their pre-season get-together due to the COVID-19 situation.

Slater had hoped to work with up to 40 players on February 5-6, beginning his quest to win back the Origin shield.

The Queensland legend, who has taken the reins following Paul Green’s one-year tenure, is happy to instead coordinate meetings with players in their home cities.

Blues mentor Brad Fittler, meanwhile, was hoping to put 30 players through their paces at the NSW Centre of Excellence on February 3.

But with COVID-19 already causing major disruptions to pre-season training at most NRL clubs, Fittler acknowledged that player welfare was paramount.

“NSWRL has shown an abundance of caution given the current COVID volatile environment,” Fittler said on Wednesday.

“Player safety comes first and given the players will be coming from a number of different clubs, we believe this is the most responsible decision to make for all concerned.”

The call — some five months before the Origin series kicks off in Sydney on June 8 — comes amid clubs reportedly expressing concerns about players taking part in next month’s All Stars match.

With coronavirus cases resulting in training setbacks, there have been questions as to whether players will be physically ready for the CommBank Stadium clash on February 12.

The Indigenous and Maori squads traditionally immerse themselves in the community in the lead-up to the special fixture, with a focus on culture.

Wests Tigers chairman Lee Hagipantelis said he was yet to hear from the NRL regarding the All Stars plan.

“It’s a difficult one. It’s a fabulous feature of our NRL calendar, it’s a great celebration of the Indigenous game,” Hagipantelis told SEN 1170.

“But in the current climate, I question the wisdom of it proceeding and having large crowds there. I don’t know.

“There are things that will have to be determined in accordance with the medical advice that’s received and the prevailing public health orders.

“We won’t know for some time what, if any, of the long-term impact will be of COVID on these professional athletes.”

According to a Fairfax media report, the NRL and club officials will discuss health and safety protocols for players involved in the All Stars match during a phone hook-up on Friday.