Business as usual for Queensland rugby league
Life after Darren Lockyer does not faze Queensland rugby league coach Mal Meninga.
The Maroons mentor appeared his usual quietly confident self after naming an Origin side without a certain follicly-challenged playmaker for the first time since 1998.
Storm inspiration Cameron Smith will attempt to fill the big shoes left by the Broncos legend when he steps out as captain for a Queensland outfit vying for an unprecedented seventh straight Origin series, starting in Melbourne next Wednesday.
As much as Lockyer is missed in Maroon circles after his retirement, Meninga did not mention his former champion once as he announced an 18-strong squad that featured debutant Matt Gillett and welcomed back strike weapon Brent Tate for the first time since 2008.
“We feel the 17 will do us proud,” Meninga said of the first match against NSW on May 23.
“It’s a new era. Cameron Smith is captain. And the side has a wealth of experience and we expect them to play to their potential.”
Gillett ensured honest backrow toiler Corey Parker was overlooked while Tate snapped up the vacant wing spot ahead of Melbourne’s Dane Nielsen and North Queensland’s Ash Graham.
“Regardless of the team picked they are going to be committed,” Meninga said.
“They will bring a lot of enthusiasm.”
On debutant Gillett, Meninga said: “He deserves his opportunity – his time has come.”
Just as Meninga would not buy into the sentiment surrounding Lockyer’s final Origin series in 2011, he did not want to read too much into what will be retiring forward Petero Civoniceva’s last tour.
“I never questioned Petero being in there – he just had to make himself available,” Meninga said of the veteran forward’s Origin credentials.
“His mere presence provides confidence to the side.
“He has been around a long time. He has been a great warrior.
“And being his last year he is invaluable leading our pack to hopefully great performances.”
After effortlessly handling Lockyer’s last Origin hurrah in 2011, Meninga did not expect the Queensland side to be distracted by Civoniceva’s send-off.
“Lockyer wasn’t that way either. He didn’t want too much fuss,” Meninga said of Civoniceva.
“I thought we handled that well and I think we will handle this well too.”© AAP 2013
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