Brad Fittler's plans for a State of Origin series sweep have taken another hit with NSW pack leader Daniel Saifiti ruled out with a rib injury as the Blues shift their camp from Gosford to Kingscliff to avoid COVID-19 uncertainty.
Rampaging prop Saifiti played for 37 minutes in Newcastle's 38-0 victory over North Queensland on Sunday but suffered a knock that went unnoticed during the NRL game.
News of his unavailability with a rib cartilage problem only broke during Brad Fittler's Monday press conference when the NSW coach took a call from team doctor Nathan Gibbs confirming Saifiti was ruled out.
Saifiti ran for 244 metres across the first two games of the series, the most by any forward as the Blues claimed the Origin shield with back-to-back wins.
"He's a huge loss; since Perth a couple of years ago he's been the head of our footy team," Fittler said of Saifiti.
"Great to see on the weekend Junior Paulo and Payne Haas were outstanding.
"It's up to them boys to step up and lead the way for us."
The Blues will move camp from the Central Coast to their northern NSW base of Kingscliff where they prepared for Origin II.
Players are set to join camp on Tuesday and the decision was made to avoid any sudden changes in protocols ahead of the July 14 game - the location of which is yet to be confirmed.
"There is still a lot of uncertainty on a number of different levels to do with the COVID situation around Greater Sydney and the Central Coast," Blues chief executive Dave Trodden said.
"This was considered the best option in the circumstances, and it was one which worked well for the team for game two."
The sudden shift of camp and unexpected withdrawal of Saifiti are the latest disruptions following injuries to Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary as the Blues attempt a historic whitewash over Queensland
With Jake Trbojevic still unavailable through injury, Melbourne workhorse Dale Finucane will come into Fittler's 17 after serving as a reserve squad member for game two.
"I always thought while (Finucane) wore the 20 in our last game we're going to be very hard to beat," Fittler said.
"When he's the 20th player chosen in your squad you're a tough footy team.
"I'm so happy to be able to reward him."
Finucane's selection comes after Fittler named Parramatta halfback Mitchell Moses and Jack Wighton in a new halves combination.
Clint Gutherson and Stefano Utoikamanu have also been added to the group as reserves, with Gutherson and Nicho Hynes the options to be 18th man.
Fittler is desperate to claim a first NSW series whitewash since 2000, however numerous injuries and the fact the series is already wrapped up make it a difficult test.
"It makes the challenge a little bit hard because it would be quite easy to relax and throw caution to the wind and lose your attention to detail," Fittler said.
"I feel like this is possibly our greatest challenge, to do it when it's not needed."