THERE has been a dramatic change in State of Origin calculations for NSW, with urgent inquiries being made yesterday to establish whether star centre Michael Jennings could be fit in time to play in the series-deciding game three against Queensland at Suncorp Stadium on July 6.
Penrith boss Phil Gould said he had asked the club's doctor, David Abrahams, to conduct a fresh examination of Jennings after speaking to Blues coach Ricky Stuart. Jennings starred for the Blues in the Origin I loss to Queensland, but subsequently suffered an ankle injury playing for the Panthers and was forced out of game two, won by NSW.
''There has been some discussion about having Michael selected,'' Gould said last night. ''I've spoken to the [NSW] coach about it, and I sent Michael to our Penrith club doctor this morning in the hope he might be fit for Origin III. Ricky said he would like to have him in an extended squad for the game, if there is a good chance he will be fit to play. Our doctor is going to consult with the State of Origin doctor.''
Gould said the indications were that Jennings would be battling against time to be fit, but that it was important to give him every chance.
''David examined him and had some concerns,'' Gould said. ''He was looking at it with a view to whether he would be fit for a game that is still 12 days away at this stage, but he still thought it was probably going to be too early.
''So the timeframe is a problem. But he is going to get in touch with the NSW doctor and they will work it out from there. I'm not sure what will happen in the end, but I'd love to see Michael play in that game.''
NSW team doctor Martin Raftery said last night he had been asked to keep a check on the condition of a number of players over the weekend. The team will be named tomorrow night. Raftery confirmed Jennings was among those players.
''Ricky asked me to check on Michael Jennings,'' Raftery said. ''He also wanted me to check on Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Robbie Farah, Dean Young and a couple of others. I spoke to Josh Dugan earlier in the week, but he wouldn't be ready to play if NSW wanted to call on him. He still hasn't been able to run because of his ankle injury.''
NSW selections for Origin II were thrown into chaos by injuries in NRL games and Stuart is obviously keeping tabs on as many contenders as possible.
''I haven't spoken to the Penrith doctor yet,'' Raftery said. ''But I'm aware that he might be contacting me soon.''
If Jennings was selected for Origin III, it would represent a stunning reversal in fortunes after he was fined $10,000 by Gould earlier this week for breaking club rules and drinking while recovering from injury.
NSW have lost not only first-choice left-centre Jennings during this series, but also William Hopoate, the Manly back who was selected at left-centre for game two and injured his hamstring in that match. Unless Jennings makes a stunning recovery to prove his fitness, it is expected that Parramatta's Jarryd Hayne will play at left-centre in Origin III.
Hayne is normally a fullback for the Eels, but played on the wing for the Blues in Origin II after missing selection for game one. He has been in tremendous form for the Eels and often bobs up around the ball in a roving role for them. Stuart would be confident about him handling centre.
Meanwhile, the Maroons could make as little as one change to their side. Selector Des Morris said yesterday they would monitor the comeback from injury of star centre Justin Hodges for Brisbane last night. Hodges is a certain selection if fit.