Mal Meninga may have all but copy/pasted his Queensland Maroons team line-up for Game 1 of the 2015 State of Origin series from last year’s Game 3 Wikipedia entry, but that doesn’t make it immune to analysis.
There’s a shield to reclaim after all, not to mention a #oneinarow hashtag to wrestle away from the evil forces of New South Wales. And Mal and the gang have opted for a blend of experience and even more experience to do it.
More State of Origin:
» State of Origin News
» State of Origin team news
» NSW Blues team for Origin 1: Expert reaction
» The Roar’s NSW Blues team for Origin 1
» The Roar’s Queensland Maroons team for Origin 1
1. Billy Slater
Baby-faced assassin he may be, but Billy Slater has been calling the shots from behind the Maroons defensive line for so long that he now takes the field in a semi-mummified state.
Don’t let the strapped-up elbow, shoulder, knee and God knows what’s happening under his jersey fool you, though. Slater can still plot, scheme and probe with the best of them. NSW know the pet plays he’ll run off Messrs Smith and Cronk around the ruck, but will they be able to stop them?
2. Darius Boyd
The biggest selection quandary facing Mal this winter was who would get to run in tries off Greg Inglis’ hip on the Maroons’ left edge.
Cometh the hour, cometh the healed Achilles heel. Darius Boyd has proven himself ready for the Origin arena with a pair of solid performances in Broncos colours since his return from injury.
Should be fit enough to outpace any pesky reporters should he be door-stopped between now and the last Wednesday in May.
3. Greg Inglis
GI looks to be playing busted behind a busted Rabbitohs side at the moment, but no matter. He’s been known to grow an extra leg come Origin time, which should replace the heavily strapped right one he’s been hobbling around on quite nicely.
Queensland can’t afford to have him drifting in and out of the game at his own discretion this time round. Field permission permitting, look for Johnathan Thurston to work the ball his way early and often.
4. Justin Hodges
New South Welshmen might think they hate Hodgo, but they’re wrong. He just hasn’t given them permission to like him. Nor will he. Ever. And especially not this year, as he dons Queensland colours for the final time.
His crabbing dummy half runs have more impact than his open field running these days, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable. And if things start to get heated, look for his eyeballs to attempt a spontaneous separation from their sockets.
5. Will Chambers
Cementing a wing spot may not seem an impressive achievement for the form centre in the competition, but Will Chambers isn’t stepping into any No.5 jersey. In his predecessor Brent Tate, Queensland had the never-say-die “Queenslander!” spirit of Gary Larson, Billy Moore and Steve Price rolled into one gutsy little unit. Someone should coin a medal in his honour. But I digress…
Will Chambers. Seems to get covered in spiders by Storm support staff before each game this season. Hopefully he’ll have some in his Origin gear bag.
6. Johnathan Thurston
Since dominating the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, Thurston’s rep form has been down on his usual lofty standards. His club form for the Cowboys this year has even been uncharacteristically erratic, ranging from just OK to ‘can we just cast him in bronze for the Hall of Immortals already’ – though definitely more of the latter than the former.
If the Queensland pack can ensure the Blues’ ‘let’s just grind and niggle away until spectators slip into voluntary comas’ 2014 approach doesn’t slow Game 1 to a crawl as it did in Game 2 last year, JT will be all over Stadium Australia like a cheap sky-blue wig.
7. Cooper Cronk
If fantasy football stats are to be believed, Cooper Cronk is down on form in 2015. Or perhaps it’s more the case that with someone other than Ben Roberts sharing the halves duties in Melbourne this year, he’s been content to kick back and let the co-pilot steer the ship a little more.
Cronk and Cam Smith will do most of the steering for Queensland, though the No.7 will likely relinquish controls when the time comes to set down behind the Blues’ tryline. Or maybe he’ll call the ball to the right to work through one of his 73 different plays with Slater and Sam Thaiday. Or he could deliver an impromptu scrum-base soliloquy on the teachings of Eckhart Tolle and thoroughly confuse everyone involved.
Whatever he does, it’ll be as ruthlessly efficient as German public transport.
8. Matt Scott
The old warhorse has more tricks up his sleeve than meets the eye. As eye-catching as his 2015 run returns are – an average of 146 metres from 15 hit-ups per game – it’s the six passes and 0.5 offloads that have him as valuable to his club side as James Graham to the Dogs and Poms.
Still, he’ll have his work cut out for him against a younger, hairier, more mobile Blues front row. Needs to lay a solid platform, win the battle for Queensland to win the war, and other such clichés if the Maroons playmakers want to give full credit to the boys come fulltime.
9. Cameron Smith
The best hooker in the game, possibly ever, and will be until he hangs up the boots to follow his destiny as a tax accountant. Next!
10. Nate Myles
Myles slipped through season 2015 virtually unnoticed until he could no longer resist Manly’s lure to bring his wife back to Summer Bay, which is just the way Queensland like it.
Takes the ugly hit-ups, falls on loose balls, tackles anything that moves, niggles anything within niggling distance. Like Paul Gallen and Greg Bird rolled into one, only likeable.
11. Aidan Guerra
The past 18 months have shown there’s more to Aidan Guerra than being really, really, ridiculously good looking. He stepped into the Maroons line-up with effortless ease in 2014, and until sustaining a cheekbone injury was a statistical dynamo at both ends of the paddock for the Roosters.
Great broken-play runner, but also a defensive warhorse who doesn’t mind rolling the sleeves up. In other words, the type of player that mythical Queensland spirit was forged around.
12. Sam Thaiday
Sam Thaiday is the world’s happiest angry man this year, which has been good news for Broncos fans and bodes well for his state also. Has a person ever looked so rapt to have a hulking beast like Jared Waerea-Hargreaves all up in his grill as Sam did in that enthralling Round 6 encounter?
If Mal has to start him off the bench, as Wayne Bennett did at the Broncos, to get those nostrils flaring, then so be it.
13. Corey Parker
Remember Game 3 last year? Corey Parker offloaded the ball with such regularity it was like the thing burnt his hands to the touch, and the relentless second-phase play eventually saw Queensland break the Blues’ wall and throw open the floodgates.
More like that please, Corey. Prove my theory that you only play your best footy at Lang Park wrong.
14. Daly Cherry-Evans*
Poor bloke will be happy to have 10 days without theories flying around about whose colours he’ll be lining up in next year. All that matters is he’ll be in at least one shade of maroon for another decade, hopefully in the sort of dominant form he’s displayed in a rebuilding Sea Eagles squad.
Yet to dominate rep footy as he does the NRL, but watch for the game to open up when he’s deployed as a roving fifth ‘spine’ member just before halftime.
15. Josh McGuire
Why does Josh McGuire play for Samoa and Queensland, while former Samoan rep Anthony Milford currently plays for neither? When you’ve figured that out, please turn your attention to solving Pi to the last decimal place.
McGuire will lap up Origin, though. Big. Tough. Wears headband. Runs like he’s just been launched from Cape Canaveral. What’s not to like?
16. Matt Gillett
Matt Gillett has played his way into Maroons contention via stealth, with his try-scoring numbers well down this year in a Broncos team running a new attacking structure under a new coach.
An impressive defensive haul against a rampant Cowboys outfit on Friday would’ve piqued Mal’s interest though, and Gillett’s mobility no doubt got him over the line, particularly as the Blues bench is stacked with enthusiastic young bulls. But his nine Origins have produced a limited highlights reel to date, which Gillett will be keen to rectify.
17. Jacob Lillyman
See above, minus the headband and international eligibility confusion. Plays for the Warriors, who we see as often on free-to-air TV as the Kiwis, so casual viewers could be forgiven for not recognising him. But he’ll be the guy not in a headband knocking out a casual 10 or so hit-ups through the unglamorous middle 40 minutes of the game.
18. Dylan Napa
An 18th man seemingly tailor-made for Origin football, given the young Roosters brute famously announced himself to NRL fans as a third-game rookie with a crushing hit on Paul Gallen. His rib rattlers will keep the old boys of the Maroons pack on their toes in the nine days before hostilities commence anew.
*Daly Cherry-Evans has reportedly been ruled out of Game 1. It’s expected he’ll be replaced by:
The North Queensland fullback-cum-centre-cum-five-eighth-cum-Mr Fix it could make a shock Origin debut after a late withdrawal of Daly Cherry-Evans. After three tries against the Broncos last weekend, you can’t really argue that he hasn’t deserved it, but you get the feeling some more casual league fans will be asking, Michael Who?