NSW hopeful Stephen Crichton feels for Tom Trbojevic despite the Manly star's season-ending shoulder surgery further enhancing his chances of making a State of Origin debut.
The 21-year-old Penrith centre was already in the selection mix with Latrell Mitchell out with a hamstring injury but with Trbojevic joining him on the sidelines there are now two vacancies in the NSW backline for Game I in Sydney on June 8.
Blues coach Brad Fittler will name his team next weekend, with Crichton continuing to press his claims with a length-of-the-field try in Penrith's 32-12 romp over the Sydney Roosters on Saturday night
Crichton said it was a massive blow for Trbojevic, who was the Wally Lewis Player of the Series in Origin last year.
"I feel for him a lot," Crichton said.
"I always knew that he was first pick and for him to go down, and especially with a season-ending injury ... he's had his fair share of injuries and it's definitely the wrong time so I feel for him."
Given Penrith's table-topping form, Fittler might look to recreate the 2021 NRL premiers combinations in the Origin arena with Crichton a possible seventh Penrith player among the NSW 17.
Brisbane's in-form Kotoni Staggs, Cronulla powerhouse Siosifa Talakai and Canberra's Jack Wighton are also in contention.
While he's Canberra's No.6 and played there for NSW in Game III last year with Jarome Luai injured, Wighton has started in the centres in five of his nine Origin appearances and could be preferred rather than two debutant centres.
Crichton said he was trying not to get caught up in which way the NSW coach could go.
He was part of the Blues 27-man squad in 2020 although didn't make the line-up.
"It's in the back of my head but I'm not trying to force things," Crichton said of Origin selection.
"I know that it's there but I don't want to get ahead of myself and start playing bad for the Panthers.
Fittler said he had spoken to Trbojevic and said it was a "cruel blow" for the player, Manly and also the Blues.
Fittler's only series loss as NSW coach came in 2020 when both strike weapons Trbojevic and Mitchell were unavailable.
"When you look back, the ball was actually dead when he dived on it, there was a couple of knock-ons prior to it," Fittler told the Nine Network's Sunday Footy Show.
"You saw the effort he put into that play, and how destroyed he was after, and even how destroyed his brother was.
"It's just tragic. Not just for the Blues obviously - being a little bit selfish there - but Manly fans, and to take him away from rugby league is quite sad.
"Cruel for everyone involved."
Australian Associated Press
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.