THE WRAP: NRL Round Eight

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD

AS Jamie Lyon trudged off WIN Jubilee Oval around 9pm last night, he was faced with the usual abuse visiting players cop. “Go home, you whinger” said one St George Illawarra zealot.

“Booo!” said another.

Then, exploiting a brief lull in the vitriol, a faceless spectator above the cage that covers the players race at Kogarah shouted – no, implored – “play for the Blues Jamie, please. We need you.”

The Manly captain, who had led the Sea Eagles to a 24-18 win – the club’s first at the ground since 1997 – had already zoned out.

But a month away from Origin, the incident was a testament to the desperation of NSW fans as Queensland prepares for what it fully expects to be an eighth consecutive series victory.

Fans south of the border already salivating over the series, which doesn’t start for a month, got an early taste of Origin despair during an absorbing MNF battle which saw the Dragons storm back from 18-4 down at halftime to level the contest with 17 minutes left.

First, Dragons winger and experienced Blue Brett Morris suffered a sprain to the back of the left knee in the 15th minute. At first, details of the injury were sketchy and Souths fan barraged social media with the contention it was not great loss because their man Nathan Merritt was a certainty anyway.

Then, in the final play of the first half, Manly and NSW fullback Brett Stewart copped a knee in the back. It wasn’t until he cooled down during the break that he realised how serious the problem was. He was in agony.

Neither returned last night. Neither is likely to miss Origin I at ANZ Stadium on June 5. Nor is the Blues skipper, Paul Gallen, who suffered a knee injury very early in Cronulla’s 21-20 overtime win over Newcastle at Hunter Stadium on Sunday.

But it just adds to the sense of agitation and nervousness the Blues feel. When 15 of the 17 players have already been picked – as is reportedly the case – it’s easier to count the men who drop like flies from injury and suspension.

“I don’t think so,” Manly coach Geoff Toovey said when asked if Lyon would be recanting on his representative retirement.

“I think he’s hung up his representative boots.

“He’ll win you a series, though.”

In leiu of Lyon – off contract at the end of the season – the candidacy of Sydney Roosters’ Michael Jennings grows. Jennings scored two tries against former club Penrith on Sunday.

“He might play for Australia in the World Cup,” says his skipper, Anthony Minichiello. “Let him play for them, then I don’t have to play against him.”

Minichiello’s Italy is in the same World Cup pool as Tonga, for whom Jennings will almost certainly turn out if he doesn’t make Tim Sheens’ Australian squad.

Then there’s Canberra’s Blake Ferguson, whose season has taken him from an ACT rooftop to a hospital bed with a broken cheekbone to scoring as many points as the entire Melbourne Storm team in half a game of football.

After posting 18 in the 24-20 win over the Storm that ended their 15-match winning run, Ferguson said Origin was at the back of his mind but declined the chance to talk up his chances.

All that would probably change if Jamie Lyon changed his mind. Origin has a proud history of players coming out of representative retirement to be heroes, from Allan Langer to Brad Fittler.

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