North Queensland's Kyle Feldt is eyeing a fairytale State of Origin debut after Maroons superstar Kalyn Ponga was ruled out of Game I in a devastating blow for Queensland.
The Maroons will be without Ponga for next Wednesday's Origin opener in Townsville after the fullback failed a fitness test.
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Maroons coach Paul Green had given Ponga as long as possible to prove his fitness after missing a month of NRL action due to a persistent groin injury.
However, with a week to go until the series gets underway at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Green was forced to make the tough call on Ponga as he looks to settle on his squad for Game I.
"Kalyn has been progressing with his rehab but time is against us and the decision has been made for him to return to the Newcastle Knights where he can focus on further recovery," Maroons team doctor Matt Hislop said.
It means Ponga has played just three of a possible nine Origins since his remarkable debut off the bench in game two of the 2018 series.
A hamstring injury kept him out of the third game of that series, before a calf injury ruled him out of the 2019 decider.
He then opted for end-of-season shoulder surgery last year, ruling him out of the 2020 series and allowing AJ Brimson to arrive as a more-than-capable replacement, before he too was ruled out with injury.
Brimson is in the squad again this year but is likely to be used by Green as a bench utility, with in-form North Queensland No.1 Valentine Holmes shifted in from the wing to replace Ponga.
That move clears the way for Holmes' Cowboys teammate Feldt to debut, with Brisbane's Xavier Coates on the other flank.
While Ponga's injury heartache is a devastating blow for Maroons fans, there is genuine excitement around Feldt's potential Origin debut on his home ground in Townsville.
Storm duo under injury cloud
Melbourne pair Harry Grant and Cameron Munster also arrived in camp this week under injury clouds, although Green was confident both will feature in Townsville.
Storm teammate Felise Kaufusi will also be there after he was found not guilty of a tripping charge that threatened to rob him of a 10th Origin appearance.
The 29-year-old, appearing via video link from Maroons camp on the Gold Coast on Tuesday night, was cleared of a grade-one trip that carried a one-match ban.
Queensland's most experienced forward let out a cheer when the verdict was read, knowing how much his inclusion means for the injury-disrupted Maroons camp.
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