CANTERBURY excitement machine Ben Barba said last night he was ''shocked, thrilled and honoured'' to have been named in a 25-man Queensland squad for this year's State of Origin series against NSW.
The Maroons issued a media release naming the squad late yesterday afternoon, chairman of selectors Des Morris explaining that ''by naming the squad today it provides an incentive for some of the players who have been on the fringe of Origin selection''.
Morris added: ''Obviously, if we get a couple of injuries, we might have to go outside the squad but as it stands now this is the group of players in the mix.''
Barba, the Bulldogs fullback who has been in tremendous form early this season and is the competition's leading try scorer with eight, is one of those fringe players Morris is talking about. Despite having been mentioned as a possible Origin bolter recently, Barba was still stunned at getting this close.
''I'm pretty surprised - shocked, to tell you the truth,'' Barba said from Brisbane, where he will play against the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium tonight. ''Just to be part of a 25-man squad is a huge thrill - it's an honour.''
Barba has been talked about as a possible shock weapon off the bench for the Maroons. It was from the bench that he first made his name as a game-breaker for the Bulldogs after being introduced to first grade towards the end of the 2008 season.
The Maroons used Melbourne halfback Cooper Cronk from the bench as a utility in last year's series, but are not guaranteed to revisit that plan. Four forwards on the bench is another possibility or they could go with Barba and three forwards.
Asked where he thought he might be a chance of getting a run, given that Storm fullback Billy Slater has a mortgage on that position, Barba replied: ''If I ever get the chance to play Origin, I would play anywhere - I don't care.
''I was part of the emerging Maroons squad earlier this year, and when Mal [Meninga, the Queensland coach] addressed the players he told us we were there because one day they might need us, and he wanted to start getting us ready. Just to be this close is fantastic. It will give me an even bigger boost for the game against the Broncos tomorrow night.''
The only players who took part in last year's series but are not in this squad are Israel Folau, who has switched to AFL, and Newcastle forward Neville Costigan, who is out injured and not expected to play again for five weeks.
Wingers Jharal Yow Yeh (Brisbane) and Daniel Vidot (Canberra) are two other promising young players who have been included. Yow Yeh appears likely to fill the wing spot vacated by Folau's defection.
Gold Coast halfback Scott Prince has not been included but it is understood that if Thurston and Cronk were to both go down with injury, Prince would be called in.