Manly coach Des Hasler has endorsed NSW boss Ricky Stuart's decision to overlook in-form full-back Brett Stewart for Origin II, saying it would be 'too risky' to throw the underdone fullback in against the rampant Maroons.
Stuart phoned the Manly mentor to enquire about the No.1's fitness and form when it became clear Raiders young-gun Josh Dugan would miss the must-win clash with an ankle injury.
The Sea Eagles star, who has managed just five appearances this season due to a nagging hamstring injury, was one of the standouts in his side's 38-4 demolition of the Bulldogs on Saturday night.
But despite his strong form, an honest Hasler told coach Stuart the 26-year-old is still a few weeks away from peak condition, opening the door for Roosters veteran Anthony Minichiello to make a shock return for the Blues.
"He just wanted to know how he was travelling, but Brett's only been back one or two games and he's still overcoming the hamstring," Hasler said of his conversation with Stuart.
"It's just too risky so it's probably better to go with the safer (option), particularly that position at full-back."
"They've just got to go with the fittest and the healthiest I think."
"They made that call with young (Michael) Jennings and they made that call with Josh Dugan."
"Brett's getting back there but he's still a way away so I can understand them going with someone that's fully fit and in that particular arena you can't afford to be losing a player early in the game."
Meanwhile, Hasler backed teenage sensation Will Hopoate to do the job for the Blues after he was named out of position at left centre in the absence of Jennings (knee).
"For a kid that only (turned 19 last month), not too much fazes him and I think that's a good thing for him, so he'll enjoy the moment and cherish the moment," Hasler said.
"I had a bit of a quick chat to him and he understands what it's about and he's really excited – it's great to see that enthusiasm ... and he'll do a great job."
While Hopoate has played just two of his 15 NRL games at centre, Hasler says the teenager's lack of experience in the key position won't be an issue.
"I don't think it matters much," he said of the winger/full-back.
"They get well prepared and he'll get briefed and he's got pretty good players around him so it's about enjoying the moment and handling the situation"
Hasler also endorsed Anthony Watmough's selection after the colourful back-rower was one of five new faces named in the Blues squad on Sunday.
"I think Choc's earned his call-up so he's played there before, he know what it's about, he's used to that arena so it's good," he said.