State of Origin's greatest ever player Cameron Smith has backed Reed Mahoney to beat Harry Grant for Queensland's No.9 jersey.
Smith's endorsement of the Parramatta hooker to make his debut for the Maroons comes as Grant battles a hamstring injury that could see him sidelined until State of Origin I on June 9.
Grant has been hampered by injury all season, playing just five games for Melbourne where he has shared duties filling the void left by retired Storm legend Smith.
But while Grant has struggled to get going, Mahoney has been solid for the second-placed Eels with 10 try-assists in 10 games.
That consistency along with his toughness is enough for Smith to back the diminutive 23-year-old to make his Origin debut at the MCG next month.
And if Grant is fit, Smith would have him on the bench for injection of energy similar to the explosive impact he had on debut in last year's decider.
"You'd probably start with Reed. He is a tough little bugger," Smith told radio station SEN.
"He doesn't mind getting involved in tackles. He's made 60-odd tackles plenty of times in his career.
"He's got great service from dummy-half, a pretty good running game and kicking game. He's got all the threats.
"Then you bring Harry Grant on to the field just before halftime to use his silky skills and craft to tear apart the Blues.
"Harry played such a vital role off the bench in game three (last year). The game turned and you could see the momentum shift."
Grant is a chance to play in round 12 which would give him one game for the Storm against Brisbane before Origin teams are selected that weekend.
However, hamstring injuries can be tricky to recover from, and there's a real possibility he could miss the next two weeks leading into team selections.
Already the Maroons are grappling with injuries and suspensions, with Josh Papali'i banned for game one, while Kalyn Ponga (groin) and Cameron Munster (foot) are hopeful of returning to the field next weekend.
"I didn't think (Mahoney) was that far away last year," Smith continued.
"He's been playing some wonderful football over the past three years for Parramatta, and he's a big reason why they've been up the top of the ladder and in a position to play finals footy.
"He's a competitor ... it's an interesting situation given the result last year."