Maroons coach Slater unfazed by Grant, Ponga concerns

Jasper Bruce |

Queensland’s Harry Grant (right) remains a chance for State of Origin’s game three.
Queensland’s Harry Grant (right) remains a chance for State of Origin’s game three.

Fitness concerns won’t discourage Queensland coach Billy Slater from considering Harry Grant and Kalyn Ponga for the winner-take-all State of Origin decider.

Slater is satisfied outside back Selwyn Cobbo is back to full health, with all other incumbent Queensland representatives who played on Sunday appearing fit and ready to go for July 17.

Queensland’s bench hooker Grant was rested from Melbourne’s first game after the Maroons were thrashed 38-18 in game two, but it has since come to light he is dealing with a sternum injury.

The Storm also sat Grant out of Saturday night’s 40-28 defeat of Wests Tigers, though football boss Frank Ponissi attributed that decision to “bumps and bruises” his captain is carrying.

But despite the lack of game time, Slater has not yet put a line through his former teammate as he contemplates tweaks to his beaten bunch for the series finale at Suncorp Stadium.

“(Grant) hasn’t been ruled out,” Slater told The Sunday Footy Show.

“He’s had a couple of weeks off now, he didn’t play the game after the Origin, he sat out the game on the weekend.

“I know Harry pretty well, I’ve been speaking to him over the last couple of weeks. He’s in a pretty good place.”

Slater is willing to put similar faith in Newcastle fullback Ponga, who made it through his first game in 11 weeks unscathed on Sunday.

Kalyn Ponga.
Kalyn Ponga is considered a leading contender for the bench utility role for the Maroons. (Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS)

Seven-time Maroon Ponga missed last year’s series to recover from a serious concussion and is unlikely to displace Reece Walsh from the fullback spot.

But after shaking off a foot injury, Ponga is considered a leading contender for the bench utility role Cobbo filled to acclaim in game one.

“He’s been a big part of the Queensland team for a number of years, missed last year and was in great form at the start of the year,” Slater said before the Knights’ 16-12 defeat of Canberra.

“He’s just got to get back on the field and start playing footy.”

Knights coach Adam O’Brien confirmed he harboured no fears for Ponga’s fitness if he were to be selected on the back of a long injury.

“I’d be super supportive,” he said.

“He never lets his state down, he played a pretty important role in a win for them not long ago.

“He does more than enough for us as a team and he deserves (it).”

Queensland representatives in game two Lindsay Collins, Jaydn Su’A and Ben Hunt are also fit and firing following the Sydney Roosters’ 42-12 defeat of St George Illawarra on Sunday.

Su’A twice landed on report, first for a late shot on Brandon Smith and then for hitting Michael Jennings high, but appears unlikely to face suspension for either indiscretion.

Slater said Cobbo was “certainly one of the candidates” to replace the injured Xavier Coates in the Maroons’ backline after the Brisbane flyer missed Origin II amid niggling injuries.

“(He’s) back playing, nice and fit now and performed well,” Slater said, impressed with Cobbo’s performance in Friday’s loss to Penrith.

A member of the extended squad in game two, veteran Dane Gagai is also an option to come in for Coates, and played the full 80 minutes for Newcastle on Sunday.

“He competes on everything, he’s a competitor and has been his whole career, and he does that for us and for Queensland,” said his Knights teammate Ponga.

Slater insisted the injured Latrell Mitchell’s withdrawal from the NSW team would not influence his own selections after opposite man Valentine Holmes struggled to curb the left centre’s influence in Origin II.

“It’s pretty dangerous if you start selecting your team on what the opposition are going to do,” Slater said.