The Maroons side for State of Origin 1 has been announced, with Anthony Milford and Dylan Napa to represent Queensland for the first time, and Johnathan Thurston named as the 18th man.
Queensland selectors have had to cope with season-ending injuries to key players Matt Scott and Greg Inglis, as well fitness concerns over the likes of Thurston and Nate Myles.
Despite that, the side they have picked looks typically strong.
1. Darius Boyd
Has arguably never been in a longer streak of form. Boyd used to be viewed as a ‘safe’ option in the squad, a reliable finisher and last-ditch defender who was the perfect foil to the brilliance of Greg Inglis. He’s now become a key cog in the attacking machine and his pass selection ability is better than many halves we currently see in the NRL. Simply couldn’t be left out and will do the job required, no matter where he plays.
2. Corey Oates
It’s a scary thought that we’ve perhaps not seen the best of Oates yet. His propensity for a spill under pressure or a brain snap in defence would have no doubt weighed against him. However he has physical traits that put others to shame and make him a nightmare to mark. It seems like Oates has been around forever, but is still only 22 years old. Gives the team great momentum when he spears the ball back early in the tackle count, helping out his tired forwards.
3. Will Chambers
Runs fantastic lines, defends strongly, and plays the game with the requisite aggression for Origin. In a position where Queensland lacks depth, having a healthy Chambers is integral to maintaining the Maroons’ recent record. Never far away from a flare-up, he can be banked upon to have his teammates’ backs – and that’s a reassuring quality in Origin. Will have to walk a fine line to ensure he maintains the same impact, without risking suspension and leaving the team in the lurch.
4. Justin O’Neill
O’Neill stood up to the plate when given the chance by Queensland last year, a factor which traditionally holds weight with Maroons selectors. However, he had zero tries and zero try assists leading into Round 10 of the NRL this year and has seemed to return to the fluctuating form which marred previous seasons. Selectors will be hoping he finds another gear when he slides the hallowed jersey over his shoulders.
5. Dane Gagai
For those who avoid watching Newcastle Knights games like the plague, this will be a rare sighting of the electric speedster. In that respect, his selection is almost reminiscent of the days when Queensland players were plucked from the BRL competition with a hint of mystery. While you want your spine players to be featuring for a club that’s regularly winning, sometimes it’s not a bad thing to have running players who have some pent-up frustration they need to get out of their system.
6. Anthony Milford
When on fire, there are not many players in the game who can hold a torch to the ‘Milf’. There are sceptics doubting his ability to call the shots in big games, but I suspect they’ll proven wrong sooner rather than later. He’s named as a starter for Game 1, with the Maroons’ first-choice No.6 Johnathan Thurston named as 18th man.
7. Cooper Cronk
It’s been shown that the wheels come off Queensland whenever Cronk is out of the side. He’s the leader in direction and team tempo and will set the example in kick-chases, taking on the line, and giving everything when scrambling in defence. It’s a mystery whether this is Cronk’s final Origin series or not… perhaps even he doesn’t know. A profound thinker about the game, he may save some of his best tricks until last.
8. Dylan Napa
If the thought of the Big Ginge rocking a few Smurf-coloured Cockroaches back on their heels doesn’t excite you, you need to hand in your Queenslander credentials. Not in the same destructive form as last year when his disciplinary discretion put him on the outer, but has ‘Made for Origin’ stamped on his dossier. Will need to pay attention to finding his front in the tackle and not getting distracted in the quest for a quick play-the-ball.
9. Cameron Smith
Smith plays the game for every single second that the clock ticks and that’s what makes him a true great. He’ll get one second extra out of his tackle, hold his marker for that fraction longer, debate a decision while teammates steal every extra breath they can. He’s constantly playing for the man beside him, whether it’s creating a bigger gap, wrapping up a struggling attacker, or even deflecting off-field attention. A great player in his own right, but even better at getting those around him performing well.
10. Nate Myles
Despite a serious injury suffered while playing for Manly this weekend, Myles is like that one mate you’ve had since primary school. You know you’re going in different directions, but if anything goes down, he’s got your back. The man with a bigger noggin than Max Headroom has definitely not been in the greatest of form, not consistently anyhow. But as someone who has been Queensland’s Ron McAuliffe Medal winner on two occasions, you can’t just brush him when you know deep down what a great asset he can be.
11. Josh Papalii
Someone you’d much rather have on your team, as opposed to wearing the other side’s strip. While he’s built a reputation on being a defensive punisher, he hurts people when he carts the ball forward too. Tough to contain, he’s good for a half-break, which is all that some of his teammates will need. His kryptonite is big minutes when the game is played at breakneck speed and Coach Walters will be picking the right time to inject and rest the bullocking bruiser for maximum effect.
12. Matt Gillett
If you were discarding reputations, you’d probably pick Gillett before Cam Smith as the first guy in the Queensland team. That’s got to be one of the greatest things anybody could have said about them. Gillett kills everything in his path, whether he’s attacking or defending, and will find the energy for a chargedown or grassing tackle when all the others are gassed. They probably printed the name on his jersey two months ago.
13. Josh McGuire
The ‘Moose’ is a divisive figure, but there’s been no doubting his effort this year. I personally think Samoa made a major error playing him out of hooker when his running game has been so invigorating of late. Let’s hope, in a different representative arena, he takes the opportunity to barrel into the NSW blokes with gusto and causes some devastation. Can be relied upon to play big minutes and give variation with his ball-playing, so a handy asset to have.
14. Michael Morgan
Appears to be re-finding form at just the right time, though to describe Morgan as struggling would be unduly harsh, given the absence of consistent combinations at the Cowboys this season. Has many strings to his bow and makes good decisions in pressure situations. Now is his time to elevate from bit-player to general of the future. Has the type of versatility that is highly valued in the take-no-prisoners Origin arena.
15. Sam Thaiday
It’s definitely getting close to curtains for Sammy, but he’s still managing to show the embers of what flickered in his prime. A tough package to handle when brought on bursting with energy, but gets blunted if he has to grind it out in the middle for too long. No doubt Thaiday wants to exit with a series of spirited performances, perhaps even let out his frustrations at side issues which have detracted this year.
16. Aidan Guerra
For someone who has been close to Queensland’s best running forward in previous series, it’s difficult to think Guerra had to fight for his spot in the side. However it’s not been the same rampaging Guerra the last 18 months, and the Roosters being up-and-down has not helped matters. In the end though, he’s a tough one to contain, has done the job ably before and delivers quality punch just when it’s required.
17. Jacob Lillyman
A hard man who proves a pleasant surprise when he pulls on the Maroon jersey. Playing out of the Warriors means Lillyman can cruise under the radar as far as most Australian supporters are concerned, but you don’t carve out a career like his unless you’ve put in a mountain of work. Has played in seven State of Origin series and is a trusted performer, but only once played in all three games (2015). Had not produced an effective offload after ten rounds of the NRL this season.
18. Johnathan Thurston
Named as the 18th man for Game 1, a fair call given he is seemingly held together by masking tape, a bobby-pin and a few Paddle Pop sticks. Thurston will go into (supposedly) his final Origin campaign with a big task just to finish the series. His competitiveness and toughness can never be questioned however, and while he’s walking the earth on two feet, he remains a threat. Some players only need to be on the bus and in the sheds to make a difference to teammates.