Sharks prop Matt Prior hopes to convince NSW coach Brad Fittler he is the man to replace David Klemmer in the Blues squad with a big performance in Thursday night’s battle for a top-four place with Canberra at GIO Stadium.
The loss of Klemmer, who fractured his wrist in last week’s State of Origin series opener, has left Fittler on the search for at least one other middle forward and Prior is believed to be battling Penrith prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard for a call-up in the June 23 clash at Perth’s Optus Stadium.
Prior was part of the Blues team which secured last year’s series win after being chosen for Origin II in place of Campbell-Gillard after the Panther broke his jaw in a Telstra Premiership match against Sydney Roosters.
Fittler again changed his bench for Origin III and selected Dragons back-rower Tariq Sims in place of Prior but he is now in the need of a specialist prop to start Paul Vaughan.
“I’d love to get another chance to play and you never know if I have a big performance against Canberra this weekend it might give me a chance to get another crack,” Prior said.
“There is one spot up for grabs and I am sure there are a couple of other blokes in the competition who are keen to play Origin and who are playing good footy so a good performance this weekend might make the difference.”
With Cronulla team-mate Aaron Woods, Gold Coast’s Ryan James and North Queensland’s Jordan McLean all sidelined by injury, Fittler doesn’t have too many options and Bronco Matt Lodge has also been mentioned as a contender.
However, with a short preparation in Perth for Origin II and the fact NSW need to win to keep the series alive, he is likely to want to bring in a player familiar with the Blues set-up.
Prior said he enjoyed the experience of playing Origin last year and after winning grand finals with St George Illawarra in 2011 and Cronulla in 2016 he was comfortable playing in such a crucial match.
“It was definitely a fast game, obviously the intensity was way up there and the whole experience was really good,” Prior said.
“Everyone knows their roles, it so professional and it is pretty simple every person who is there is at the top of the game so all you have to do is come in and do your role the best you can. You don’t have to worry about too much else.”
Prior has been a key player for the Sharks this season as they have won four of their last five games to claim equal fourth place with Newcastle and Canberra in the absence of a host of big-name stars.
Captain Wade Graham made a successful return from a knee reconstruction in last Saturday night’s 42-22 defeat of Parramatta, while star five-eighth Shaun Johnson may be back for this week’s match against the Raiders.
“Wade was unbelievable, we have all seen what he can do and what he did on the weekend when he came on for those 25 minutes was pretty impressive so it is awesome to have him back and his leadership is good out there too,” Prior said.
“We have got so much depth, we are so lucky to have so many good players available and fit and ready which is obviously good for the club.”
Former Test centre Josh Dugan, who revealed on Monday that he had reached out to Fittler about a NSW recall if the Blues get injuries in their outside backs, said the emergence of Briton Nikora, Bronson Xerri and Kyle Flanagan had put the Sharks in a strong position.
“I think they have played a vital role in us being where we are now, we have still got Shaun Johnson and Woodsy to come back so once we are at full strength we can make a real run at the top four,” Dugan said.
“Wade gives us an extra attacking weapon the left edge, he can ball play, he can kick, he is just such a threat whenever he gets the ball and he is a good defender as well so all the boys are stoked to have him back.”
Dugan said he had not given up on playing in this year’s Origin series after representing the Blues on 14 previous occasions, and had contacted Fittler to discuss his ambitions.
“I reached out to him a few weeks ago just to see what he was thinking and that sort of thing,” Dugan said. “Throughout the injuries and things like, I just said if you need someone I am there and I will put my hand up if you want me but that is up to him entirely.
“He said I was playing well, to keep it up and it might happen or it might not. When I have been on the park, apart from a few hiccups here and there, I have done pretty well this year and have tried to stay consistent.”