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Tonga and Graham vie for Maroons spots

By Ben Galvin 07/06/2009 12:06:00 PM Comments (0)

North Queensland centres Willie Tonga and Ash Graham put forward their claims for the vacant Queensland backline spot with impressive performances in the Cowboys' 46-12 NRL demolition of South Sydney on Saturday.

With Queensland selectors searching for a replacement for Justin Hodges, who sustained medial knee ligament damage in Origin One last Wednesday, the Cowboys duo couldn't have found form at a better time.

Tonga looks to have buried his injury demons and returned to the form which saw him capture two Queensland Origin jerseys and make seven appearances for Australia in 2004.

And Graham bagged a brace of tries against the Rabbitohs sending a reminder to selectors that he too is ready to fill the void after attending two Emerging Queensland Origin Camps.

Cowboys coach and Queensland Origin Assistant Neil Henry believes both players have strong claims for a Maroon jersey for game two in Sydney on June 24.

"Willie Tonga is in tremendous form and Ash too, you would be happy if either of them got an opportunity," Henry said.

"There is not much between them they have both been very good."

If Tonga were to come into the side Henry admitted it would mean a potential backline restructure but the Cherbourg junior has been outstanding defensively this year since returning from long injury lay offs.

"There would have to be some sort of a shuffle in the backline to accommodate Willie," he said.

"Willie Tonga defensively has been outstanding... he is not missing many (tackles) at all I think he has been in great form.

However, Henry believes Graham appears to be the perfect fit for the Maroons being a right centre specialist.

"Ash is a right side (centre), Hodgo (Hodges) is a right side," Henry said.

"Ash has been in that Emerging (Queensland) Squad before and Mal has seen him in that environment as well."

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