Senior players to decide who’ll be Maroons fullback
Player power may decide who plays the crucial fullback position in the third and deciding Origin game at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium on July 4.
If Billy Slater, as expected, is not available due to a grade three tear to his posterior cruciate ligament, then coach Mal Meninga and the selectors will consult the senior players for their input.
They did this last year when Greg Inglis was unavailable.
Darren Lockyer, Cam Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater chose the Storm’s Dane Nielsen, who could be in contention again should Inglis be asked to wear the number one jersey.
This is far from being a clear cut decision and while Slater is considered the world’s best fullback, the Maroons are fortunate that they have so many top class contenders, who, aside from Inglis, include Ben Barba, Darius Boyd and Matt Bowen.
Many experts consider Inglis every bit as good as Slater, but the Maroons would weaken the left centre position if he was moved. If it was not a series defining game that would give Queensland a record seven straight series wins, the dynamic Ben Barba would be an automatic selection, but the selectors are noted for being very conservative and may not want to risk Barba on debut in such a big game.
In his favour, he has trained with the team as a shadow.
Barba was the equal leading try scorer in the NRL last year and has already scored nine this season (Inglis five).
As good as Inglis is, Barba also leads him easily in try assists, line breaks, line break assists and his speciality, tackle breaks. He leads Inglis by a staggering 69 to 50 in this important area for a fullback, and he was number one in the NRL in 2012.
The senior players all know and trust Inglis and they will be comfortable knowing what to expect from him. With Barba, his team mates will be like his opposition: not knowing what to expect. They don’t know because Barba doesn’t know. He plays on instinct.
The player’s biggest concern with Barba will be stage fright and facing the high bomb under pressure. All the great stats in the world count for nothing if you cannot handle the big occasion. Just ask Todd Carney.
Everything we have seen from this years Origin has indicated we could be seeing a “changing of the guard” with the Blues forwards dominating Queensland.
The Blues forwards have always been competitive against the Maroons, but over the last six years they have not been able to find the answers to their brilliant backs like Billy Slater, Jonathan Thurston, Cam Smith, Darren Lockyer and Cooper Cronk, who have always been able to come up with the right backline moves to clinch the series.
With the prospect of the Maroons running out for Origin III without the great Slater, and a new dominant Blues forward pack ready to go again, we are looking at another cracker of a game.
Mal Meninga will welcome back Sam Thaiday and overall his tattered team should be fitter. The Maroons suffered in game two with injuries to Tate, Hodges, Scott, Harrison, Parker on top of a clearly off the pace Thurston. They have three weeks to get everything right and come up with a series saving formula.
They will run onto Suncorp with some optimism knowing that they suffered heavy injuries during the game, lost Cronk for ten minutes to the sin bin and that they only lost by four points.
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