STATE OF ORIGIN
A remarkable 47-minute stint which produced 264 running metres against Cronulla last Saturday night has guaranteed Trent Merrin's shot at history with the NSW team for next week's second State of Origin at ANZ Stadium.
Merrin, who was in the Blues side that beat Queensland 12-8 in the series opener, had been one of the players thought to be under consideration to make way for Greg Bird, after the Test backrower was forced to miss Origin I due to a ban for a lifting tackle.
However, on Tuesday Merrin will be named in a 17-man NSW team that will include two other new faces from that match.
Dragons teammate Josh Dugan will play right centre and Parramatta's Will Hopoate will be recalled on the right wing, three years after making his Origin debut in the same position and just 12 games since returning from a two-year Mormom mission.
Bird's selection in the back row forces skipper Paul Gallen to shift up front and Test prop James Tamou to drop back to the interchange from where he can make an impact after sitting out the opening exchanges.
Canterbury second-rower Tony Williams is believed to be the unlucky forward to miss out, but he may be included in an extended squad as cover for Luke Lewis, who did not play in the Sharks' 30-0 loss to St George Illawarra after having a cortisone injection last Thursday to remove fluid in his knee.
Fairfax Media has been told the injury should not affect Lewis's chances of being fit for next Wednesday night's Origin clash, but will hamper his preparation.
While Dugan secured his place in the NSW side by scoring three tries against Cronulla, Merrin ensured his spot on the bench after making 24 runs in one 47-minute stint, after being switched to the interchange by new Dragons coach Paul McGregor.
He also made 20 tackles in a performance that was statistically the second best of his career.
Merrin has been a regular member of Blues teams since 2011 but was dropped for that year's Origin decider and the next season.
However, Blues insiders say he is seen as a good player to have in the team camp and NSW coach Laurie Daley is known to be a fan as he can play like a prop but has footwork and ball skills.
Against Cronulla, 15 of his runs were classified as hit-ups but Merrin also made three offloads and a tackle break as he returned to the style that had initially earned him Origin selection after appearing to have reacted to criticism of the Dragons forward pack as "soft" by charging the ball into opposition defences as hard as he could in recent weeks.
In last Monday night's match against South Sydney, 13 of Merrin's 14 runs were hit-ups - as were 10 of his 12 runs in St George Illawarra's previous game against Parramatta.
Daley confirmed on Monday that Bird's return would mean a forward had to be cut from the team that played in Origin I.
"I think it is fair to say that Greg Bird will come into the starting side, it is just a matter of where we go from there - whether we move Gal up to the front row or possibly play him on an edge but that is to be decided," Daley said.
But Tamou said he expected to drop back to the interchange to make way for Gallen up front.
"It would actually make my job easier coming off the bench with the first 10 minutes going blow for blow," Tamou said.
With the Blues just one win away from ending Queensland's eight-year winning streak, both Daley and Tamou said they expected injured Maroons stars Greg Inglis, Billy Slater and Daly Cherry-Evans to play.
"We've all seen Queensland in this position before and come out on top," Tamou said.
Daley said: "The reason that [Queensland] have named that extended squad is that they have five players playing tonight. Most guys these days have 48-to-72 hours recovery so they wouldn't be able to train if they didn't have that extended squad."