SOO BLUES TRAINING
Mal Meninga has opened the door for James Maloney and Damien Cook to become prominent members of the Kangaroos spine if they can seal a State of Origin series win for NSW on Sunday.
Kangaroos coach Meninga on Thursday declared there were some big spots vacant ahead of the end-of-year Tests, following the retirements of Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith from a national side that has for so long been dominated by Queenslanders.
Maloney was used as a reserve during last year's World Cup win and Cook has never played for Australia, but Meninga has emphasised how important this Origin series is looking ahead to the October 13 Test against New Zealand.
"A lot of weight will be placed on the Origin series this year and who wins it," Meninga said on Thursday.
"Particularly around your spine - your No.9, No.7, No.6 and No.1.
"Some of our greatest-ever players have retired from those positions so those spots are wide open."
Cook has bolted from the blue into Kangaroos' contention after completely outplaying Andrew McCullough in the Origin series opener.
"You could probably say this is a bit of a trial but there are still a couple of other hookers that are (close) and there's a lot of footy to be played throughout the year," Cook said at Blues training on Thursday.
"Yeah we won game one but I've got to make sure I can show myself being consistent at this level before I can move onto Aussie stuff."
Meanwhile, Cronk's post-World Cup departure leaves Meninga in need of a long-term halfback, a role Maloney could make his own if he can repeat his influential display in NSW's opening win.
But three days out from Sunday's potential series-winning clash at ANZ Stadium the Panthers playmaker, who has made three appearances for Australia, was adamant international footy didn't come into calculations.
"It wasn't really on my mind at all," Maloney said.
"We'll wait and see. As soon as you start trying to focus on anything beyond what we've got to achieve on Sunday you lose focus on what you've actually got to do.
"We'll concentrate on Sunday, make sure we have a big effort and hopefully we can get the result we want.
"See what happens after all that."
Maloney has been cleared of a back injury and will run out against Queensland on Sunday, and it's now or never in another way for the 32-year-old, who is yet to taste a series win after 10 appearances.
"It's my fourth series and it'll be the third time I've been one up," he said.
"There's still plenty of work to do, it's not over."