Blues centre Matt Burton has shrugged off concerns about his fitness for Origin III after sitting out training on Wednesday as Chad Townsend prepares to join the NSW squad after Nicho Hynes tested positive to COVID.
Hynes was briefly in the NSW camp on Monday but did not travel with the squad to Kingscliff as he was due to play for Cronulla in Thursday night’s match against the Storm until a positive PCR test on Wednesday ruled him out.
Blues officials said all other 21 players had returned negative RAT tests.
The Sharks playmaker was 18th man in Perth and had been due to join the Blues camp on Friday but will now quarantine in Sydney. His Sharks team-mate Toby Rudolf also tested positive.
NSW officials said Hynes was only with the squad from 3pm to 5pm on Monday at an airport hotel and all players and staff have been RAT tested twice daily, with all results being negative.
Blues coach Brad Fittler confirmed Townsend was poised to join the squad as he does not have a back-up halfback in camp if something was to happen to Nathan Cleary before next Wednesday night’s series decider at Suncorp Stadium.
Jack Wighton has been named as 18th man, while Burton could also fill the five-eighth role if necessary, with Jarome Luai shifting to halfback.
Mitchell Moses deputised for Cleary in last year's third Origin but he has NRL commitments with Parramatta on Saturday and Fittler said Townsend was able to join the camp immediately as North Queensland have a bye.
"We've spoken to Chad Townsend and he's keen to come in, given the Cowboys aren't playing," Fittler told 2GB on Wednesday night.
"He's able to come down tonight and be involved with the camp so it's great news and he's been in great form."
Townsend showed his pride at the call-up with a tweet on Wednesday night.
Meanwhile, Burton is expected to train with the Blues on Thursday after Fittler and his coaching staff decided not to take any risks with a minor calf injuring hampering the Bulldogs star.
Wighton trained in place of Burton at left centre, where he played in the series opening 16-10 loss at Accor Stadium before being ruled out of Origin II due to COVID.
Burton, who retained his place ahead of Wighton after starring on debut in Perth, insisted he was fine but NSW staff felt it was better for him to avoid the heavy ground at Cudgen following constant rain in Northern NSW since late last week.
“It is obviously a bit slippery out there so we didn’t think it was worth the risk today, but I will be sweet to go tomorrow,” Burton said. “It is a long week so I didn’t want to take any risks.”
The Blues flew to Kingscliff on Monday night to escape the severe weather in Sydney, but conditions have been little better at Lismore on Tuesday, where the team trained barefoot on a muddy Oakes Oval, or Cudgen.
Burton talks us through his Origin debut
The team were initially scheduled to train at Les Burger Fields in Kingscliff but the ground was not in suitable condition after hosting local matches in the wet conditions.
However, NSW officials may need to find another training ground if the rain continues as the field at Cudgen Leagues Club was heavily waterlogged on Wednesday.
Match: Maroons v Blues
Game 3 -
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane