State of Origin is about to enter its 38th year – and I can’t recall a more critical time in its history - as QLD has said farewell to three of their all-time champions in Cameron Smith, Jonathon Thurston and Cooper Cronk and NSW look to re-establish themselves in this arena with a new coach, a new team and a new approach.
QLD are the underdogs - once again – as they look to replace a four-time Wally Lewis medal winner in Smith and their highest point scorer of all time in Thurston.
And they also need to replace one of the game’s great tactical kickers and prolific field goal kickers in Cronk.
Between them and their great mate Billy Slater (who will become the 10th player to play 30 games for his State in Melb in game 1) – they have conspired to keep the State of Origin shield north of the border for 12 of the past 13 years.
My spies tell me that Ben Hunt will be named halfback, Cameron Munster will be five-eighth and Andrew McCullough will be hooker, Greg Inglis will be named captain, Michael Morgan will be No 14 and Darius Boyd (who has been part of this group since 2006) will be overlooked for Valentine Holmes.
My QLD team:
Billy Slater, Valentine Holmes, Greg Inglis (Capt), Will Chambers, Dane Gagai, Cameron Munster, Ben Hunt, Matt Scott, Andrew McCullough, Dylan Napa, Gavin Cooper, Felise Kaufusi, Josh McGuire. Res: Michael Morgan, Jarrod Wallace, Tim Glasby, Coen Hess. 18th Kalyn Ponga, 19th Jai Aarow
The NSW rugby league have adopted their usual approach to selecting their team with any number of conspiracy theories and hidden agendas being tossed up in the media before they select their team – nothing new there.
Brad Fittler will get the team he wants and he is under pressure (with the QLD team under re-construction for the first time in 10 years) to get the right people in and around the team.
Reading between the lines – there are a number of players who will be punted – after the fall-out and the blame game from last year continues.
But just like QLD – the Blues must settle on their key positions for game 1 which is always tight and coaches have a limited preparation to get their combinations to gel to start their campaign.
It is for this reason that I believe James Tedesco will retain the fullback jumper and James Maloney will retain his place in the halves because they know what to expect and their experience will be invaluable for the newbies including Nathan Cleary at halfback and Damian Cook or Cameron McInnes at dummy half.
Two players who will be over looked will be Blake Ferguson and Josh Dugan following their alleged misbehaviour in the lead-up to last year’s decider. I am expecting Tom Trbojevic and Josh Addo-Carr on the wings to bring the ball back on kick reception with Lattraell Mitchell and Euan Atkins to make their debuts in the centres.
Despite some unwarranted criticism – current Kangaroos vice-captain Boyd Cordner will be left edge back rower and captain. He is a fantastic leader, a great character but I can’t see him remonstrating with the referees like some of his predecessors in the role.
Two of the Blues’ best forwards from 2017 were David Klemmer (whom I expect will start in the front row) and Jake Trbojevic (who has found some great form in the past two weeks for Manly) and he will start at lock.
I have changed my mind on the starting hooker and I believe Cameron McInnes will get the nod ahead of Damian Cook based on his defence in the middle third and the relationship he has with the four Dragons forwards I expect will be named in their team.
My NSW team:
James Tedesco, Tom Trbojevic, Latrell Mitchell, Euan Atkin, Josh Addo-Carr, James Maloney, Nathan Cleary, Regan-Campbell Gillard, Cameron McInnes, David Klemmer, Boyd Cordner (Capt), Tyson Frizelle, Jake Trbojevic. Res: Tyrone Peachey, Jack De Bellin, Tariq Simms, Paul Vaughan. 18th Wade Graham 19th James Roberts.
Broncos, Raiders, Cowboys, Roosters, Rabbitohs, Panthers, Sharks, Tigers.