Gould calls on Slater to stand aside for Ponga
FORMER NSW coach Phil Gould has dealt Billy Slater a harsh reality check, asserting Queensland can't afford to select the champion fullback for State of Origin II if he's not up to training in camp.
Slater missed game one with a small hamstring tear and also sat out Melbourne's 32-16 NRL win over Brisbane on Sunday.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy admitted he wasn't sure when the star veteran would be fit to play again and, while hopeful he'd return against Newcastle Knights this Sunday, would not take any chances.
The 34-year-old has 12 days to prove his fitness before the Maroons attempt to save the three-game series at ANZ Stadium on June 24 and said he was doing everything in his power to get there.
Gould said Slater simply couldn't be picked if he's still in the midst of rehab given the team's shorter camp ahead of a rare weekend fixture on Sunday week.
"If they found a tear and they've only got seven days to prepare for when they go into camp for Origin II they've got to be training their full team all week, they can't have Billy sitting around icing his hamstring for a week," Gould said on Monday night.
"They've got to make a decision and say 'Billy get ready for game three, we'll send the kid in for game two and try to square the series up here'."
'The kid' is Kalyn Ponga, who was drafted in as a reserve for the MCG opener but ultimately overlooked following Slater's injury, with Michael Morgan starting at fullback.
Wally Lewis has led the calls to include the in-form 20-year-old and former Maroons prop Ben Hannant said he must play a role this series.
"We need someone who can bring some speed and just that x-factor," Hannant said.
"And I think moving forward Kalyn Ponga is that guy who can make the difference."
But Hannant was also adamant Slater must be included if he's close to ready.
"If you know anything about Billy Slater the way he plays, his talk, his energy, everything he does off the ball, is outstanding," he said.
"I don't care if he hasn't played for a month, Billy Slater is a fit individual, he's someone who prepares extremely well.
"If he's 90 per cent fit he's the man for the job."