Origin boost: 40,000 set to shake Suncorp for Game III
Queensland's State of Origin title hopes have suffered a blow with Cowboys duo Kyle Feldt and Michael Morgan ruled out of the series and clubmate Valentine Holmes to be rubbed out of Game One in Adelaide.
North Queensland medicos have today officially scratched the pair, with Feldt to undergo groin surgery, while Morgan will sit out the Maroons' campaign in a precautionary move to heal a bone infection in his shoulder.
In another crushing setback for the Maroons, key strike weapon Holmes will miss the series opener on November 4 in Adelaide for a shoulder charge on Broncos rival Jesse Arthars in the Cowboys' 32-16 derby win.
Queensland are in danger of having their three-quarter line decimated.
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Feldt was poised to make his Origin debut as Holmes' wing partner after scoring a superb 18 tries this year, including a hat-trick against the Broncos on Thursday night, while Morgan played centre in last year's series loss to the Blues.
In the absence of the Cowboys trio, incumbent Maroons winger Corey Oates may get a reprieve despite his poor club form for Brisbane this year.
Maroons coach Kevin Walters may also consider backline bolters such as Cronulla flyer Ronaldo Mulitalo, Storm giant Brenko Lee and Titans duo Phillip Sami and Corey Thompson to ease his injury crisis.
Feldt's treble against Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium catapulted him to the top of the NRL's tryscoring list, only for Cowboys coach Josh Hannay to confirm the 2015 premiership hero will go under the knife next month.
"He will have off-season surgery," Hannay said.
"He will be disappointed he has gotten himself to a point where he is knocking on the (Origin) door and there is probably a lack of depth for Queensland in the outside backs now.
"But the last thing Kyle needs to do is play Origin at less than 100 per cent because it can find you out and you might only get one crack at it."
Holmes would serve only a one-match ban, leaving the Cowboys ace available for Origin II in Sydney on November 11.
Morgan will not require fresh surgery on his shoulder, but the Cowboys are taking no risks and want their skipper to hit the ground running when North Queensland's pre-season kicks off on November 23, five days after Origin III.
ORIGIN CROWDS COUP
The State of Origin series has received a major boost with up to 40,000 fans set to be cleared to attend Suncorp Stadium as the Queensland government looks to ease COVID restrictions for the NRL's showpiece event.
In a coup for the NRL, Suncorp Stadium could be at 75 per cent capacity under government plans for thousands of Maroons fans to witness Origin's 40th anniversary celebrations in Game Three on November 18.
There were fears rising COVID infection spikes in Victoria and New South Wales in recent months could have ramifications for crowd limits for State of Origin, which generates around $90 million annually for the NRL.
At one stage, Suncorp Stadium were investigating the possibility of as few as 10,000 to 15,000 fans being allowed to attend Origin III this year.
But the Queensland government will hold 75 per cent capacity trials involving two AFL games featuring the Lions and Richmond next Friday at the Gabba, followed by St Kilda and Western Bulldogs on Sunday.
If the trials are successful, the Melbourne Storm's upcoming home finals match at Suncorp Stadium will be roadtested with a view to 39,375 fans being cleared to attend a potential Origin decider at the home of Queensland Rugby League.
The sight of a near-full Suncorp, drenched in Maroon, on Origin night would be a welcome sight for NRL bosses after months of empty stands.
Gabba General Manager Mark Zundans said Queensland has led Australia with the return of crowds to our world-class venues under COVID-Safe plans approved by Queensland Health.
"More than 400,000 people have returned to watch sport at our major stadiums across Queensland since restrictions were eased in late May," Mr Zundans said.
"Participants in the trial were overwhelmingly supportive of the COVID-Safe measures already put in place within the venue.
"It was also clear that patrons felt more comfortable wearing a mask only when they were moving into a crowded area such as upon entry, exit or when moving about the concourses as opposed to being seated.
"We will carefully consider the feedback to provide the safest possible venue experience and continue to build on the great work already done by all Queenslanders."
Originally published as Origin boost: 40,000 set to shake Suncorp for Game III