Yesterday we spoke of the very real chance that the Blues could debut five or more players come the Origin series opener.
New South Wales is not the only side with big decisions to make before the interstate competition. The Maroons, as dominant as they have been, have Origin legends out of form with young stars placing pressure on their positions.
The Maroons have built a decade of dominance through a pick and stick strategy but had to make some huge calls last series to get the job done.
We take a look at a series of tough calls Kevin Walters may have to make.
Arguably the biggest decision facing Kevin Walter is whether or not to pick Origin legend, Darius Boyd. He won’t play fullback, that will be Slater, meaning if he is chosen it will be at the expense of either Gagai or Holmes on the wing. On form, Boyd isn’t a shout, but given that he and Inglis have formed the most potent Origin outside backs combination in history, he has to be in contention. To be honest, I wouldn’t even consider moving Holmes or Gagai, or even Oates if they head that way, but it will be incredibly difficult to overlook a multiple time match winner in Boyd.
Another former legend who may be overlooked for young blood. Well, that was my thinking until injuries to Gillett and McGuire. Scott may earn his maroon jumper back based on the lack of Origin experience heading into the game. Hess, Arrow and Wallace are all likely picks while Napa is a likely choice, and although all are brilliant forwards in their own right, they don’t carry the experienced head that a Matt Scott can provide. I think he is selected for game one.
Michael Morgan vs Ben Hunt
If you’d asked me which player would be the Origin halfback come Origin back in the pre-season I would have laughed you out of the building. Michael Morgan was THE form player of the finals series last year and had a wow of a World Cup. Fast forward nine rounds of NRL action and you simply cannot go past Ben Hunt as the form maroon halfback. Morgan’s form has been up and down, to say the least, leading to thoughts that he may move back to fullback for his club. On current form, Hunt is an obvious choice with Morgan moving to the bench to fill the utility role.
Does Kalyn Ponga debut?
In my view, this all comes down to Billy Slater. The talk is he’ll play Origin despite hinting that his rep career may be done after last year’s World Cup final win. If Slater is available, he plays. No question, end discussion. If he is injured or decides to call it late, do the Maroons head back to Boyd or do they blood arguably the most exciting young player in the competition in Kalyn Ponga? Ponga will almost certainly play Origin at some stage, but it may be a season or two too early. That said, he’s in ridiculous form right now and given he debuted in a finals series two years ago, is no stranger to pressure games early on.
Coen Hess to start?
Matt Gillett and Josh McGuire are two certain starters who will miss Origin One. McGuire may be back but even if he is, does Kevin Walters go to the Cowboys weapon Coen Hess to start the game? I would, no question. His performances for the Cowboys this season have been at another level. He starts, he dominates, he plays big minutes. For mine, he is an almost certainty to start, although there’s an argument that he could be even more lethal coming off the bench. Big call.
A few weeks ago Josh Papalii was playing in reserve grade, and rightly so. His form was down and his effort seemed the same. Since the demotion, he has been a different player and looks more like the weapon who helped belt the Blues around over the past few years. He’ll be smarting that he was over looked for the Kangaroos and certainly won’t let anyone down. He’s an Origin player, but right now there seem to be better options.
Jai Arrow Debut?
Speaking of options, I’d be measuring up Titans monster Jai Arrow for his Origin jersey right away. He’s huge, he’s powerful and can go all day and night. He’s the perfect Origin player and almost has to be there come Origin one. I don’t even see this as a decision, to be honest but it could be risky given the games of experience that will be missing through injury. Arrow, Wallace, Hess, it’s an imposing bunch, but there are only a few games at this level between them. That will come into the calculation, although for mine it shouldn’t.
Let us know your thoughts below. Will Darius Boyd be overlooked for the incumbent Origin and Kangaroos wing partnership or will his record breaking partnership with Greg Inglis see him retained? Will Kevin Walters look to the future and pick Kalyn Ponga? Will Ben Hunt’s form upstage Michael Morgan’s recent success?