My way-too-early Maroons team for State of Origin 2017

Jimmy Smith Columnist

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    Ok, I know. I know. There are still nearly two months and 48 games before State of Origin teams are to be selected, but let’s get in nice and early.

    Everyone loves to speculate a little, so after five rounds, let’s help Kevin Walters with his selections for Origin Game 1 on May 31st at Suncorp Stadium.

    Queensland pick themselves right? You always hear that. Well, not quite.

    This year they have been hard hit by injuries and a retirement with three certain selections in Matt Scott, Corey Parker and Greg Inglis unavailable. These three have played 71 Origins and scored 19 tries between them, with scoring 18 of them, the most by any player.

    But Billy is back. Despite the feeling that Billy Slater might say no to Origin this year and repay the faith (and resources) that the Melbourne Storm have poured into him for little on-field return over the last two years, the greatest fullback to have ever played the game wants to get back in that Maroons jersey.

    Understandably Walters wants to pick him. Understandably, Slater wants to play. A player as competitive as him couldn’t stand to be on the sidelines.

    Queensland players celebrate Billy Slater's try during Game 3 of the 2014 State of Origin Series. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

    I think Queensland are stronger with Slater in for Darius Boyd at fullback.

    But does Slater’s return compensate for the loss of Inglis? No.

    It means the Maroons are a little stronger in the left wing position because Boyd will be moved there to accommodate Slater, but they are still their left-centre down.

    Justin O’Neill and Dane Gagai will make up the Maroons right side, and I think Coach Walters will probably go for Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk at five eighth and half respectively. Probably.

    Left-centre, marking up on Josh Dugan. Where can Walters look for this key position? Will Chambers plays right centre for Melbourne but has experience at Origin level.

    Tautau Moga has been solid for Brisbane without finding the sort of form that he needs to force Chambers out. Kyle Feldt on the wing for Gagai to left centre? Seems like too many changes for no significant uplift.

    Cameron Munster has impressed as a fullback, has the skill to play five eighth and is as fit as anyone in the league. And one of the most competitive. His broken jaw will see him return roughly Round 9 – so will have three full games to be right for Origin I. He will have 50 games of NRL under his belt by then. Yep, lets pick him.

    Matt Scott celebrates scoring for the Maroons

    Scott was a mainstay for Queensland over the 2016 series. And the other prop selection was a little problematic with Nate Myles and Josh McGuire filling the void. That means it’s even more problematic this year in Scott’s absence.

    Myles is back to the bench with Manly and there are question marks over his form but his phenomenal 31 games experience is going to be hard to cover, so he will get a start on my bench.

    Dylan Napa was a very naughty boy in the 2016 emerging Maroons camp and missed selection last year. Queensland will be hoping he is a choirboy in the lead up to May 31.

    Napa in front row with McGuire. Sam Thaiday and Matt Gillet will round out the back row, and I just have to start with Josh Papalii at lock. He doesn’t fill this role at his club but I think he can be even more explosive knowing he will get a rest at some point and be back for a second stint.

    Myles on the bench with… with… Anthony Milford? Tough call on Michael Morgan but can you imagine, as a tiring NSW forward, the last bloke you would want to see come on fresh is old twinkle toes Milford.

    With Papalii in the starting side you can carry extra middle forwards and play Papalii on an edge if there is an injury.

    The candidates for bench positions in previous years are Aidan Guerra, Jacob Lillyman, Gavin Cooper, Felise Kaufusi and Ethan Lowe.

    But the two players I would go with are Coen Hess and Dave Taylor. Hess is a supreme footballer, strong physically and gauging by how he played in that Cowboys vs Broncos semi final last year, not overawed by big occasions. A must, and a must pick for Queensland for the next decade.

    Taylor is left field, hasn’t played Origin since 2014, and has had a huge number of “distractions” over the last two seasons. But again I come back to the point – who would Laurie Daley and the Blues prefer to play against – Taylor or Lillyman? I know my answer.

    Cameron Smith will play hooker. And he will captain the side.

    That sentence is so easy to write, yet incredibly powerful for Queensland and debilitating for NSW. Whatever you think of the Australia, Queensland and Melbourne captain, his statistical record is ridiculous. Seriously, take a look at it.

    Smith will turn 34 on the Sunday before Game 2. And I still don’t see any early signs of ageing in his play.

    Cameron Smith of the Maroons

    In fact, the numbers that he (and Cronk) produced after Origin for Melbourne last year were better than his post Origin figures for many seasons. That says a lot about the Storm system, but it also says even more about the man.

    So just when you (maybe it was just me) thought that Queensland were showing signs they were going to have this golden period come to an end, they can come up with a 17 like this – and make everyone in NSW just that little more uncomfortable come winter.

    1 Billy Slater
    2 Darius Boyd
    3 Cameron Munster
    4 Justin O’Neill
    5 Dane Gagai
    6 Johnathan Thurston
    7 Cooper Cronk
    8 Josh McGuire
    9 Cameron Smith ©
    10 Dylan Napa
    11 Matt Gillet
    12 Sam Thaiday
    13 Josh Papalii

    14 Anthony Milford
    15 Nate Myles
    16 Coen Hess
    17 Dave Taylor

    Jimmy Smith
    Jimmy Smith

    A well-known and respected NRL commentator, Jimmy Smith played professional rugby league in an 11-year career that included stints in both the NRL with the Roosters, Western Suburbs and South Sydney, and England's Super League with Salford. He earned over 150 first grade caps before hanging up the boots and switching to the commentary box. You can find him on Twitter @ThatJimmySmith.

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