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Andrew Johns on fullback spot, AJ Brimson

NSW legend Andrew Johns has called out what he sees as a potential Queensland selection smoke screen, saying he doesn’t expect Valentine Holmes to line up at fullback in the Origin opener.

Immediately after the injured Kalyn Ponga withdrew from Maroons camp to continue rehabilitating his injured groin back in Newcastle, reports started to roll in that Cowboys star Holmes would be the replacement.

Add to that the injury cloud over Titans fullback AJ Brimson, who didn’t train with the Queensland side yesterday, and you’ve got the recipe for a typical Origin ambush according to Johns, who blew away the smoke screen on Wide World of Sports’ Immortal Behaviour.

“There’s talk that Valentine Holmes might come in at fullback,” Johns said. “I think they might go the other way. Brimson was really strong last year at fullback, especially in Adelaide, he had a big game there, so I think they might go with Brimson at fullback.’

ULTIMATE GUIDE: State of Origin 2021 info pack

Johns added that he was surprised Ponga was ever named in the squad at all having heard first hand from the 23-year-old how debilitating his groin injury was.

“I spoke to Kalyn before the Manly game (on Sunday) and asked him how the groin was going, blah blah blah, and it didn’t sound real good, because he’d rested it and he’d tried to run midweek and he took three steps and went ‘ahhh!’,” Johns said.

“I understand he’s got a small tear in there. You’ve got to be so careful with groins.”

Having experienced his own groin issues during his career, Johns warned that Ponga needed to make sure he got the injury right before returning to the field, which could potentially rule him out of the second Origin game as well.

“I think I had four operations on it,” Johns said. “It can just linger and hang around. It takes a lot of your speed and power away and your foot work and you just lack that confidence because you think it’s going to go ‘pop’ again.

“It’s weird, it travels, you can get it up in your stomach, it’s like you’ve got a hernia, and then it goes elsewhere. It can linger around.

“He’s in good hands up there, the doctor, Dr Neil Halpin, he’ll look after him, he specialises in groins, he operates on groins, so he’s in great hands there but he’s got to be careful Kalyn.”

Ponga ruled out of Origin I

Despite being Queensland’s preferred fullback since Billy Slater retired from representative football after the 2018 series, Ponga has so far represented the Maroons just three times, with injuries striking consistently at Origin time.

While his absence didn’t stop Queensland from causing a huge boilover last year, with Brimson, Holmes and Corey Allan each starting at fullback in one game, Johns said Ponga’s injury would inevitably weaken Queensland’s attack in Wednesday’s series-opener.

“It really affects them,” Johns said. “He creates so much at fullback, he’s that second wave in attack, he combines well down that left side with Munster, so he’s a massive out.”

Last year with Ponga missing Brimson was the first choice fullback, and was one of the best players on the field in their Game One victory in Adelaide before suffering a serious foot injury that cost him his place in the other two games.

Holmes replaced him in the No.1 jersey in Game Two, a 34-10 victory for the Blues, before he was switched back to the wing for the series decider, allowing Allan to move into the custodian’s role.

Both Brimson and Holmes are having good seasons for their club sides but the Titans fullback has struggled with bone bruising to his knee for several weeks and was unable to finish Sunday’s heavy loss to the Sharks due to the injury.

If he is unable to convince the Queensland selectors he’s fit enough to start Brimson has been tipped to take his place on the bench in a utility role, with Holmes to start at fullback.

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