This feels almost strange to discuss, as, for the bulk of the last successful decade of Origin, the Queensland side has almost picked itself.
Only injury, or the odd emergence of a young superstar, has kept the likes of Meninga and then Walters from simply hitting the copy and paste keys when submitting their Origin selections.
However, in 2017 a mixture of long-term injuries, the emergence of a list of young players, and a return from a long-term injury have combined to create selection headaches for the first time in many, many years.
Although the likes of Cronk, Thurston and Smith have mortgages on their jumpers for as long as they want them, there will be some ageing Origin greats looking nervously over their shoulder, while a few key positions will need to be filled due to injury.
Matt Scott and Greg Inglis, two automatic selections for as long as I can remember, will both miss the series due to season-ending injuries, while the return of Billy Slater looms as a decision that will need to be made.
Nate Myles has slowed considerably in the past two seasons while the likes of Guerra and Lillyman may find themselves in selection battles.
Michael Morgan will have to hold off the likes of Milford, Friend, and Munster to retain his spot on the bench, while the return to form of Cherry-Evans may also provide a talking point.
Queenslanders, it’s your turn to let your voices be heard. Who runs out onto Suncorp Stadium in game one? Below are the likely options for each of the positions.
Despite the incredible talents of Cameron Munster and Valentine Holmes, this is a two horse race. It can be argued that both men, at their best, should be picked in any side in the world, but this is a tough choice. Slater has been electric since his return to the game after two seasons out through injury, but Boyd is the best fullback in the game. Boyd’s form saw him edge out Greg Inglis for the number one at state and national levels and should see him hold onto the position here. That said, Slater is a specialist fullback and Boyd has tasted tremendous success on the wing in Maroon and is far more suited to the switch than Slater.
My Tip: Darius Boyd
If Slater is selected at fullback, then Boyd slots into one of the wing positions, that is a given. However, I see Slater being overlooked as it would be brave to move the best number one in the game away from the position, meaning that Oates, Gagai and Holmes will battle it out for the two wing spots. Although Holmes has played at fullback for the majority of the season at the Sharks, he was in the top few wingers last season and has Kangaroo jerseys as proof of that. Oates and Gagai were immense in last season’s series, with Gagai especially providing highlights. Walters is tremendously loyal, however, the talents of Holmes could force his hand here.
Greg Inglis is out, meaning for the first time in a long time, there is talk of who plays centre for Queensland. Justin O’Neill will fill in one side of the field, his efforts for the Kangaroos and the Cowboys mean he holds onto his spot. The other spot is somewhat up for debate, especially if Holmes is picked to partner Oates on the wing. Gagai could really upstage his Storm rival in Will Chambers, while Cameron Munster needs to play Origin sooner than later. Its the experience of Chambers that will see him picked over Munster, who hasn’t played enough at centre for mine. Gagai will probably hold onto his wing spot, otherwise, I could really see him pick up the other centre position.
My Tip: Justin O’Neil, Will Chambers
No discussion needed. We will revisit this next year after Thurston retires from rep footy and Cronk possibly retires. For now, though, the champion halves remain ready for one last Origin assault.
Matt Scott’s injury opens up a selection headache of sorts north of the Tweed. Nate Myles has more than likely played his last Origin series, while fellow incumbent Jacob Lillyman isn’t exactly kicking the door down across the Tasman. If he can successfully return in time from injury, this could be Dylan Napa’s year. He has been well down on his best for the tri-colours but has Origin match winner written all over him. Josh Papalii is likely to be picked to partner him. Although he doesn’t pack into the front row of the scrum for the Raiders, he has played plenty of prop before.
If Papalii is not picked in the front row, he slots straight into the second row. Matt Gillett is an automatic choice as he and Boyd Cordner slug it out for the title of the best second rower in the game right now. I do think Papalii will be picked at 8 or 10 to start the game though, opening up a spot for either Thaiday, Cooper, Hess, Lowe or Guerra in the second row. Although his form has been down, I believe Cooper’s partnership with Thurston will see him picked. Guerra has enjoyed a red-hot start to the season and his experience may see him get the nod. Lowe is probably a little down the pecking order now that he has lost his club run on spot to Hess. Sam Thaiday may get the nod over Cooper, meaning the Cowboy second rower moves to the bench.
Josh McGuire has been in supreme form for the Broncos and has made the number 13 jersey his own. He is capable of playing big minutes and gets through a mountain of work. I think he slots into the same role at Origin level, although he and Papalii are interchangeable really and McGuire could very well move back into the front row if required. Hess is a monster but will have a hard time knocking off two established Origin stars.
My Tip: Josh McGuire
Absolutely no discussion here. Best number nine of the modern era.
Sam Thaiday is an automatic selection here if he isn’t named over Cooper to start. His experience at Origin level makes him a must pick. Jarrod Wallace has shown exactly the form that justifies his move to the Titans after chasing more run on opportunities. He will have an uphill battle displacing some of the other players, but his form has been such that he’s fast becoming impossible to overlook. I really want to see wrecking ball Coen Hess picked or Origin, but the talk is that Walter will wait another year before selecting him. Aidan Guerra has done the job for the Maroons on multiple occasions and may just edge the rookie here. Michael Morgan has done enough to hold onto his spot, although Cameron Munster is one of many breathing down his neck.