Queensland Maroons Media Opportunity
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 30: Selwyn Cobbo is interviewed during a Queensland Maroons State of Origin squad media opportunity at Suncorp Stadium on May 30, 2022 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

It was always going to happen.

The case to pick Selwyn Cobbo for the QLD Maroons for this year’s State of Origin series was driven by the media, moved by his impressive form during the Brisbane Broncos’ winning streak and then finished off by calls which grew louder with every passing week.

Billy Slater was always going to pick him when he unveiled his team on Monday morning, with the only other real candidates being Murray Taulagi and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, who both made the extended squad, and Cobbo's own Brisbane teammate in Corey Oates.

And it’s not hard to see the reasons, even if you don’t particularly agree with them.

Cobbo, in the last six weeks while the Broncos have been winning, has scored ten tries, made six line breaks, 37 tackle breaks, three offloads and has averaged 155 metres per game.

But it’s those words - while the Broncos have been winning - which form the catalyst of the argument as to why the 19-year-old, who only has 19 NRL games to his name - shouldn’t be in the Queensland squad for the opening game of the series.

While the theory “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough” should be applied to all players equally, this isn’t a debate about age, although that may certainly play a part in the areas where Cobbo falls down when compared to some of his peers. It becomes even more so the case when compared to the wingers New South Wales will roll out at Homebush on Wednesday evening in Daniel Tupou and Brian To’o, who are undoubtedly two of the best in the game.

The debate around Tupou and Addo-Carr can, in many ways, be described in the same way that Cobbo’s numbers become a problem, but that is another story for another day.

Come Origin time, the two most important things any winger can do is run the ball hard out of their own end to set up the game for their forwards and halves, and be solid in defence.

Unfortunately, when the tide is against Cobbo, he goes to water in both elements of the game, and that, to an extent, was on display again as the Broncos fell behind 24 points to 4 against the Gold Coast Titans on Friday night in Round 12.

It was almost a final warning shot fired to rookie coach Billy Slater and his team of selectors, but it’s one they chose not to worry about.

In those opening six rounds, Cobbo only made more than 100 metres on two occasions - once in Round 1 when the Broncos were the surprise dominant team against the South Sydney Rabbitohs, and in Round 4 against the New Zealand Warriors, who have the competition’s worst edge defence.

Again, favourable circumstances, so make of that what you will.

The bottom line is that across the opening six rounds - when the Broncos were struggling at the best of times - Cobbo scored zero tries, made two line breaks, only 16 tackle breaks, just the one offload and missed eight tackles, compared to only five missed in the last six weeks.

Add that to the fact he only averaged 105 metres per game, and you have some steep, steep drop offs when the wheels fall off for the rest of his side.

That is going to naturally happen, but to that level, it quite clearly shows a lack of willingness to do the hard yards to try and rescue the situation. Not only that, but it’s quite clear that when the wheels have been turning for the Broncos, a large chunk of Cobbo’s metres have come in open field from line breaks.

That isn’t what happens with any regularity in Origin though, and it’s a game which favours the toughest players this competition has to offer.

The single biggest difference between the two Origin sides last year was running metres in the back five, and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out it was potentially the biggest factor in the series - or at the very least, the opening two games.

The stats from those two games are alarming for Queensland.

Game 1 saw the back five run a combined 467 metres compared to the Blues 928, while Game 2 saw an improvement to 590 metres, but still a total well short of the men from south of the Tweed, who piled up 923.

Simply put, finishing tries out wide is something every winger can do. It’s the hard yards that define the best modern wingers, particularly when the game is going completely and utterly against your team, and it’s those runs which Cobbo just doesn’t have on the board at this early stage of his career, and it’s those simple facts which make this an enormously risky call for Slater and his selectors.

And it’s those hard yards which Cobbo’s Brisbane teammate Corey Oates brings in droves.

He too has improved his form since the Broncos’ turned things around, but unlike Cobbo, his metres haven’t had a marked 50 per cent increase since they started winning.

Instead, Oates averaged 161 metres per game in the opening six rounds and 195 metres per game in the last six.

There is still an increase, but it’s an increase which naturally comes in a winning team. What he did was still excellent during the opening six rounds.

NRL Rd 9 - Broncos v Bulldogs

It’s not as if running metres are the single defining stat, but given how dominant the Blues were last year, and the fact that Daniel Tupou will come into the side with his average of 170 metres per contest, it’s a stat which the Maroons must be competitive in if they want to win.

Cobbo might be a flashy winger, but in this instance, a no-frills workhorse might have been the way to go, and it’s hard to imagine this not playing a part in the eventual result of the series.

Queensland might have just missed a trick here.

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