North Queensland Cowboys jet Jeremiah Nanai appeared to suffer a serious injury in the State of Origin series opener on Wednesday night.
Coach Todd Payten says he was “petrified” when Cowboys young gun Jeremiah Nanai appeared to suffer an ankle injury during the State of Origin series opener on Wednesday.
Payten said Valentine Holmes was likely to back up from Queensland’s 16-10 win to face St. George-Illawarra on Friday night for a game his rival coach Anthony Griffin called the Dragons’ “biggest test” of the season to date.
The remainder of the Cowboys’ and Dragons’ Origin stars will be given until game day to prove their fitness for the clash at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.
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Nanai has been a revelation in the back row for the Cowboys this year but his Origin debut looked set to be cut short when he landed awkwardly in a tackle early in the second half.
The 19-year-old writhed in pain on the ground, clutching his right ankle and needed assistance leaving the field.
Nanai will be crucial to the Cowboys’ premiership tilt so Payten admitted he was biting his fingernails when the young gun went off.
“I was petrified; my phone went alight,” the usually reserved Payten admitted.
Miraculously, Nanai returned to play just 15 minutes later.
“I was really pleased to see him come back on,” Payten said.
“He’s still a kid, so he’s learning the difference between being hurt and injured.
“I guess playing for your state, living out your childhood dream, he’s pushed through some pain and he’s got back out on the pitch.”
Griffin said this weekend’s trip to north Queensland would be a major challenge for his Dragons, who could move into the top eight for the first time since round two with a win.
“They’re probably the form team of the competition at the moment,” Griffin said of the Cowboys.
“They’re going to be very hard to beat. We’ve had a couple of wins but this will be our biggest test.”
Origin stars Ben Hunt and Tariq Sims joined the Dragons in Townsville on Thursday and were sent for assessment by the club’s medical team.
Griffin said he wasn’t opposed to playing them on Friday night, despite the short turnaround.
“They both pulled up okay,” he said.
“We’re not going to hurt them. If they’re fit and ready to play, we’ll consider (them for selection).
“We won’t be taking any risks.”
Payten said Holmes, who scored his 11th Origin try on Wednesday, was itching to run out for his 150th NRL game on Friday night.
“He’s saying the right things,” Payten said.
“He told me through the week that he was wanting to play and he said the same thing (on Thursday morning).”
Payten said he “absolutely” hoped Nanai and Reuben Cotter could join Holmes in the team.
“They’re some of our best players,” he said.
“I had intentions of playing them (but) I’m questioning myself at the moment.
“I know what they’re going to say when I talk to them; it’s probably more how they say it, then I’ll make some calls around that.”