The NSW Blues have been named for the first game of the 2017 #Origin series.
8 days ago - 2 Likes
A wing spot in the NSW State of Origin side might be up for grabs, but incumbent Hazem El Masri returns for the Bulldogs in Saturday night's NRL clash with Penrith to stake a last-minute claim.
The 32-year-old goal-kicking maestro made a long awaited debut for the Blues in last year's dead rubber as Suncorp Stadium welcomed home the victorious Maroons.
El Masri scored a try and booted three-from-three in the Brisbane pressure cooker as NSW scored a face-saving 18-4 victory.
"I proved myself last year," El Masri said.
"I had three difficult attempts under extreme pressure and I kicked three of them.
"I'm there to play good footy and the extra bit is my goal-kicking so hopefully I can benefit them in some way."
El Masri, the league's third highest point-scorer of all time, will return from a three-week lay-off with a hamstring injury at ANZ Stadium on Saturday.
His timing is good with the NSW Origin squad to be named on Tuesday - and no obvious goal-kicker amongst the candidates.
But Gidley and Lyon are not assured of starting spots and none of the possibilities have goal kicking credentials to match El Masri.
The Bulldogs winger is aware a big game against the Panthers could see his name suddenly re-emerge in the pre-selection talk.
"For sure but I don't want to base my game around that," he told AAP.
"I want to base my game around playing good footy and then anything on top of that is a bonus."
The Bulldogs will give fullback Luke Patten until Saturday to prove he has overcome a back injury but are not overly confident he will play.
They are likely to be without five-eighth Ben Roberts after he was ruled out of Friday night's Centenary Test between Australia and New Zealand with a hamstring strain, and will also sweat on second-rower Sonny Bill Williams backing up.
Boosting the Bulldogs will be the return of former Test lock Reni Maitua, who will play his first NRL match since round two after being sidelined by a combination of disciplinary and injury concerns.
The Bulldogs and Panthers are both on eight competition points - equal with the eighth-placed Wests Tigers - but the Panthers have beaten the Bulldogs in four of their last five meetings.