North Queensland coach Graham Murray says hooker Aaron Payne has both the class and versatility to become a dangerous bench option for the Maroons later in the State of Origin series.
Payne missed out on an Origin call up for game one as selectors opted for Brisbane rake PJ Marsh on the interchange to provide support for Test skipper and hooker Cameron Smith.
The 25-year-old Payne however could offer more flexibility to Queensland after his strong performance in Saturday night's 38-6 loss to Manly at Bluetongue Stadium in Gosford after filling in for halfback Johnathan Thurston.
While Payne couldn't penetrate Manly's committed defence his kicking game was solid and he controlled North Queensland's attack.
"I think he's always been well thought of," said Murray when asked of Payne's Origin prospects.
"He just has to keep plugging away. He has been a pretty good hooker, which we all know he is, and he showed he has a bit of versatility to play halfback and by and large he has got a pretty fair kicking game. "He is our number one hooker, but he showed (against Manly) he can do anything on the roll and he does have a little bit of class. "I think he can eventually get there ... he would do a job if he was needed too." Meanwhile lock Luke O'Donnell continued his push for a NSW recall with another strong performance following his hamstring surgery.
Last year's horrific hamstring injury cost O'Donnell his Blues jumper and after a minor hiccup earlier this season he is building his way back to strong form and ex-NSW coach Murray believes the powerful lock could come into selection consideration later in the Origin series.
"I always thought he would be knocking on the door for Origin II and certainly Origin III," said Murray.Like