Queensland were always going to find it difficult to replace Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston after both retired from representative football in 2017.
In Cameron Munster the Maroons seem to have found the perfect ball-playing five-eighth to at least go some way to filling the void left by possibly the greatest halves combination in the interstate series history.
Despite being only 23 years of age, nothing seems to worry Munster. He has a premiership and an Origin series victory to his name as well as two Kangaroo jumpers.
It’s not beyond belief that Munster will be the first choice number six for club and state, and possibly country, for the next decade.
Unfortunately the Maroons seem to be having early trouble in replacing their champion number seven.
Despite being the halfback for the table topping Dragons, Ben Hunt struggled in both games of the 2018 series so far. Although it would be cruel to write him off so early in his Origin career, some fans are already referring to him as ‘Queensland’s Mitchell Pearce’.
Pearce, an amazing club footballer, has never been able to deliver that elusive Origin series win despite being handed more chances than his previous performances probably deserved. He was made scapegoat for the majority of the losses suffered by the blue state.
The Blues’ only Origin win in the past decade, prior to 2018, was when Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds formed an all-Bulldogs halves combination.
There have been vocal calls from fans and pundits alike to drop Hunt for Game III and replace him. Three names have been thrown up, with a potential fourth, far more left-field option presented.
Anthony Milford: Perhaps given his previous Origin experience, Milford shapes as the most obvious inclusion. That said, Milford is a genuine number six. Cameron Munster is also a genuine number six. Neither man controls the game through the boot which places a lot of pressure on McCullough and Slater to chime in.
Being that neither of those players is a noted kicker, it’s a hugely risky strategy. Despite his two Origin appearances, you can’t win an Origin game without winning the field position battle. I can’t see Milford, for all his magic skills, delivering that.
Ash Taylor: In my view, the favourite. Ash Taylor has the best kicking game of all possible candidates and leads the NRL for try assists. Given the Blues have two specialist fullbacks and the quickest man in the competition across their back three, QLD are going to need pinpoint kicks. They’re going to need repeat sets to build pressure, they’re going to need Ash Taylor.
He certainly does not possess the running game of the other options here but the Maroons need someone to control and direct, and Taylor’s boot can deliver just that. The big question would obviously be his defence. The Blues would target the much smaller Taylor and work him hard for 80 minutes. Big test if chosen, although with the series done and dusted the pressure is slightly released.
Daly Cherry-Evans: For some reason DCE’s rep career card seems to have been punched. I’m not exactly sure why but to be honest DCE would make the most sense if the Maroons want to win Origin III. He has big game experience and lacks the glaring weaknesses of the other contenders.
His kicking game is far superior to Milford’s and Kalyn Ponga’s, while he has far more experience than Taylor. He has both the passing and running game and despite his club’s struggles has a fair amount of form behind him. It would be hard to justify not selecting DCE to be honest. If he has a monster game this weekend then he firms as a real shot despite ridiculous suggestions to the contrary.
Kalyn Ponga: The left-field option. The more I think about it the more convinced I am that Ponga will be the number seven for Queensland in game three. Simply put the Maroons need Ponga playing 80 minutes and there is little to no chance Billy Slater will be dropped given what he produced for the Maroons last Sunday night. Also not forgetting he’s potentially the best modern fullback to play the game.
Ponga could fill the playmaking role. He certainly has the flair. Given his 50+ minute stint in the front line last weekend there is no doubt he could handle the defensive workload. Once again the kicking game is a potential problem, but he can do everything else, so he’s probably hiding a 10/10 attacking kicking game under that headgear too.
If you’re worried about young Ponga being overawed by the occasion, don’t be. His hilarious answer to interview questions asking ‘what was the difference between club and Origin footy?’ was a simple ‘I dunno’. The kid cannot be rustled. Make it happen.
Ben Hunt: The fifth option is simply sticking with Ben Hunt. He hardly had the worst game of all time last week, nor was his Origin I overly terrible. That said, the third tackle option that saw the ball kicked into row C of seating won’t easily be forgotten. He will be back at this level, but maybe not until at least 2019.