Queensland’s Origin III preparations have been thrown into turmoil and Cameron Munster and Murray Taulagi will be banned due to Covid protocols.
The QRL confirmed that Munster and Taulagi had returned positive RAT tests on Friday, with the pair slashing the pair from the Suncorp decision with a huge blow.
Munster and Taulagi are now awaiting the results of the PCR swabs. If the smears are positive, the duo will be excluded from Wednesday’s decision.
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“Queensland Maroons players Cameron Munster and Murray Taulagi returned positive Rapid Antigen Tests today,” the QRL said in a statement.
“Both players have been given PCR swabs to confirm if they have COVID-19. They isolate themselves from the group while the results of these swabs are pending.
“All other players sent back negative RAT tests.
“The Maroons follow all protocols as advised by the NRL.
“Corey Oates will join the Maroons squad tonight.”
If Munster is ruled out, Tom Dearden would likely join the team for his Origin debut, with Corey Oates looming as Taulagi’s replacement.
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It would be a huge ask for Dearden to take over from Queensland’s best player in Munster in an Origin decider.
Maroons coach Billy Slater could also use Ben Hunt in the halves with Harry Grant to start at hooker and Dearden to join the bench, but his lack of versatility could hurt Queensland.
Either way, the loss of Munster would be a huge blow to Queensland’s chances of retaking the shield.
Cooper Cronk believes Munster will be a huge loss to the Maroons if he is banned.
“That’s a curve ball, that’s a huge rock for Billy Slater’s team in Queensland,” Cronk told Fox League.
“Munster was great in game one. Probably in the shape of his career. To not have him available. Still to be confirmed.
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“And Murray Taulagi was ready for his second game.
“Corey Oates has clearly been there and has done so before. I can imagine that is a direct exchange.
“But I’m a bit unsure about who plays for Munster. You have Cherry-Evans and Ben Hunt there. Tom Dearden and Sam Walker, so there’s a bit of flexibility.
“They haven’t gone for anyone outside the squad, so that’s where it sits until this PCR test comes back.”
Benji Marshall believes Munster’s potential omission would be a huge blow to overcome.
“It’s big news for Queensland,” Marshall said.
“Cameron Munster, you can see the effect it has had on Melbourne without him. That he is out of Origin for me changes the game a lot for Queensland.
“He’s the X factor guy. I think he brings a lot of energy. His performance was the best for Queensland so I think he is a huge loss.
“I know they have a guy like Ben Hunt there and guys like Dearden, but I think the side composition they had had what it took to beat NSW.
“Without Munster, I think that’s a bit doubtful.”
Cronk believes Hunt is the logical replacement for Munster in the halves, but he can be held at hooker so as not to disrupt the side’s game plan.
“I think normally Ben Hunt just comes in,” Cronk said.
“He’s been great for the Dragons all year and maybe in his best form.
“But also his ninth position, the way he’s played and changed the game at different stages with Harry Grant.
“There’s no doubt that Billy Slater is a glass half-full type. He will understand that this is a bull’s eye in terms of build-up, but he will see it as an opportunity to grow in difficult moments and fight fire with fire without some of the better players.”
Marshall asked, “Is there any chance he will start Dearden at five-eighth, given that Ben Hunt is taking the sting out of the game for Harry Grant?”
“Yeah, of course I think he really likes the Ben Hunt and Harry Grant combination because it’s been effective in both games,” Cronk replied.
“But you have to get inside Billy Slater’s brain. No one else will know that answer until an hour before kick-off.
“They have a few more training sessions and have to wait for the PCR tests to come back.
“But I’m probably with Benji. He’s probably keeping Ben Hunt and Harry Grant and maybe he’ll bring in someone else to play the number 6 jersey.”
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