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Queensland are Origin underdogs now? I don’t think so

AJ Mithen Columnist

64 Have your say

    So the great Cameron Smith is gone, and millions of people in bright blue afro wigs breathe a huge sigh of relief.

    Smith’s retirement from representative football was the last thing we’d expected to hear while arguing about Origin team selections.

    I know I hadn’t given the Queensland hooker position a second thought, and I’m pretty confident that anyone who tells you they didn’t have Cameron Smith in the number 9 is lying.

    He was the very definition of a ‘fixture’, missing only one Origin match since scoring on debut in Game 3 of the 2003 series. It’s a remarkable record.

    Queensland’s captain, kicker and hooker, gone, all in one press conference.

    Strangely though, Smith’s decision to frame his rep jerseys for the pool room seems to have unleashed a mass case of amnesia across the league world.

    Many, many people are so excited at the prospect of a Smith-less Queensland, they’ve completely forgotten New South Wales are in the early stages of a full-scale, knockdown rebuild operation.

    Phil Gould went on the record earlier this week saying that new coach Brad Fittler was wiping the slate clean and “anyone who’s been there that’s lost is not coming back”.

    Does Smith’s absence bring Queensland back to NSW ever so slightly? Of course it does. It has to. But does it doom Queensland and give the Blues a genuine shot at winning the 2018 series? Give me a break.

    Johnathan Thurston Cameron Smith Queensland Maroons State of Origin NRL 2017

    AAP Image/Darren England

    Here’s a quick memory refresher…

    In last year’s decider, Queensland did the Blues over to the tune of 22-6. Thanks to injury and circumstance, coach Kevin Walters had to bring eight new players into his squad – not an ideal scenario for the biggest game of the year.

    There’s a pretty notable list of absentees from that game, too: no Greg Inglis, no Matt Scott, no Darius Boyd, and guess what? No Johnathan Thurston.

    Queensland’s halves were Cooper Cronk and a first gamer, Cameron Munster. Now Cronk is gone, but his likely replacement, Ben Hunt, was covering him from the bench.

    That’s the same Ben Hunt who is halfback for the team sitting atop the NRL ladder. He’s in the top few for try assists, line break assists and kicking metres.

    And how about this list of surnames? Slater, Gagai, Inglis, Hess, Chambers, Papalii. You know what their first names are.

    Has all of this proven Origin quality all of a sudden lost the ability to play because Smith retired?

    As if to prove how Smith’s decision has sent people mad, there’s already reporting bouncing around that Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk and even Smith himself might be receiving an emergency call if things go belly-up.

    There’s certainly precedent for this (on both sides of the border), but it’s not happening.

    Smith will be properly saluted for his contributions to Queensland and Australia in time, but for now we need to look at what Walters does from here.

    Kevin Walters smiles

    Kevin Walters (AAP Image/Jim Morton)

    Who takes the number 9? Thanks to Smith’s durability, it’s likely that whoever dons the jersey will be playing their first Origin match.

    The heavy favourite out of the gates is Brisbane Broncos rake Andrew McCullough. He’s already got Wayne Bennett spruiking him out on the hustings and the fans seem to agree, because McCullough handily leads all the online polls that came out yesterday.

    McCullough is known for sticking his tackles and while he can work through 80 minutes without too much trouble, he’s had a few bad injuries in the last 18 months. He’s still pretty fresh from recovering from a knee reconstruction but he’s also technically still supposed to be missing after he damaged his elbow ligament against the Storm.

    From the outside, Queensland’s Smith succession planning looks a bit underwhelming, maybe even non existent.

    Walters didn’t have any hookers in his newly streamlined ‘Emerging Origin’ squad earlier this year, but North Queensland’s Jake Granville was in the 2017 version.

    Granville understands how to work with elite halves, winning the 2015 premiership feeding Thurston and Michael Morgan (coincidentally, against McCullough).

    Roosters dummy half Jake Friend started 2018 pretty well, hit a fairly deep trough, then came back strongly last week against the Warriors.

    Working in Friend’s favour is that he’s been in and around the Queensland setup already as injury cover for Smith. That’s important from Walters’ point of view.

    This weekend McCullough and Friend go head to head, a match-up that takes on a whole new complexion given the week’s events.

    As for the next Queensland Origin captain, there’s a plethora of options. The Maroons pride themselves on having leaders all the way up and down from positions 1 to 17.

    But teams do need a figurehead and, for me, the choice is obvious: Greg Inglis.

    Inglis is back as fit as he can be and State of Origin is the place where he imposes himself on a game with a presence greater than Darius Boyd, Billy Slater or anyone else.

    It’s a running joke every year that Queensland try to cast themselves as the underdog and Smith’s departure has given them every reason to try it on again. Don’t buy that talk, even for one whole second.

    State of Origin rarely fails to deliver for drama, controversy and intensity. In 2018 we can add unpredictability. This is shaping as one of the most interesting series for a long time.

    AJ Mithen
    AJ Mithen

    AJ watches far too much sport. When he's not watching it, he's reading about it. When he's not reading about it, he's writing about it and when he's not writing about it, he's talking about it on the podcast ‘A Sporting Discussion’. Rugby league has AJ's heart, but he loves to give space to the sports that the mainstream forgets - he’ll never rest until Australian baseball gets the coverage it deserves! He’s always game for a debate in a comments section or on twitter @AJMithen - but you’d best come prepared!

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    The Crowd Says (64)

    • Roar Guru

      May 16th 2018 @ 8:18am
      Rellum said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:18am | ! Report

      NSW always work themselves into a lather of self delusion before the first game and proclaim themselves favourites.

      This year looks to be a bit of a changing of the guard on both sides so NSW have a much better chance than they have had for a long time.

      • May 16th 2018 @ 8:21am
        i miss the force said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:21am | ! Report

        no, thats just what the courier mail tells you

        • Roar Guru

          May 16th 2018 @ 8:31am
          Emcie said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:31am | ! Report

          The Courier Mail is just the Daily Tele masqurading as Qld’s voice

        • Roar Guru

          May 16th 2018 @ 9:07am
          Rellum said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:07am | ! Report

          If only I read that rag.

    • May 16th 2018 @ 8:24am
      Dan said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:24am | ! Report

      If Jimmy Maloney remains injury free. NSW wins. Smith was a talisman. Can’t replace those in two weeks.

    • Roar Guru

      May 16th 2018 @ 8:37am
      Nat said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:37am | ! Report

      AJ, Hush, Qld are always the underdogs but the NSW punters generally put their hard earned on G1, not the series. That would be the pure definition of throwing good money after bad. I cannot say losing the bet player in the world will have no effect on the quality of the squad but the fact Qld has introduced so many new, good players over the last few years seems to be missed by a few. It will be a quality series but based on my tips this year – Go the Blues!

    • May 16th 2018 @ 8:48am
      Paul said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:48am | ! Report

      I think the goal kicking will be a key feature Qld will struggle to cover. I notice you make no mention of who that person might be in this article, AJ?

      • Columnist

        May 16th 2018 @ 8:56am
        AJ Mithen said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:56am | ! Report

        I had it Paul, but took it out for reasons I can’t remember – I’m using Munster at the kicking tee.

        • May 16th 2018 @ 9:23am
          Paul said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:23am | ! Report

          hmmmmm….. will be interesting to see how he goes, given all the practice he doesn’t get, playing for the Storm.

          • Columnist

            May 16th 2018 @ 9:25am
            AJ Mithen said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:25am | ! Report

            His numbers aren’t phenomenal, but not many of the options are. Given the number of tries the Maroons score out wide I can only imagine Munster is spending 8 hours a day kicking from the sideline!

            • May 16th 2018 @ 3:47pm
              KenoathCarnt said | May 16th 2018 @ 3:47pm | ! Report

              DCE?

    • Roar Guru

      May 16th 2018 @ 8:59am
      The Barry said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:59am | ! Report

      Come on AJ get in the spirit.

      Queensland can win 9/10, have a team full of immortals and two home games and they’re still the underdogs!

      It’s all part of the script…

      • Columnist

        May 16th 2018 @ 9:00am
        AJ Mithen said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:00am | ! Report

        Melbourne? That’s pretty much in Queensland…

        • May 16th 2018 @ 9:45am
          Raugeee said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:45am | ! Report

          NSW had a 3-1 record at the MCG

    • Roar Guru

      May 16th 2018 @ 9:02am
      The Barry said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:02am | ! Report

      Im sure Gould’s comments were to get clicks and it’s not literally true but the whole “Freddie’s going to wipe the slate clean and not pick anyone who’s played before” filled me with dread.

      For starters, that’s not just a rope me in headline, it’s literally what Gus has said.

      Two – Fittler is random enough to do it.

      Three – Fittler was quoted on the weekend talking about Victor Radley as a Blues contender.

      • Columnist

        May 16th 2018 @ 9:07am
        AJ Mithen said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:07am | ! Report

        Imagine what’s coming if Freddie ends up playing Dugan/Hayne/Ferguson/Woods etc…

        • Roar Guru

          May 16th 2018 @ 9:29am
          The Barry said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:29am | ! Report

          Well there’s certainly blokes who’ve played before who shouldn’t play again but the group of been there / done that also includes:

          Maloney, Cordner, Tedesco, Klemmer, Frizell, Jackson, Graham, Jurbo.

          Imagine if Fittler doesn’t play any of them…

          • Columnist

            May 16th 2018 @ 9:30am
            AJ Mithen said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:30am | ! Report

            I’d be amazed if that lot were among the cuts.

            • Roar Guru

              May 16th 2018 @ 9:43am
              The Barry said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:43am | ! Report

              Same…but it depends how literal Freddie and Gus are being.

              Victor Radley, seriously?!

              • Columnist

                May 16th 2018 @ 9:44am
                AJ Mithen said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:44am | ! Report

                Feeding the chooks…

              • May 16th 2018 @ 9:58am
                no one in particular said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:58am | ! Report

                I think that was Fittler critcising the Roosters and Jake Friend without actually critcising the Roosters and Jake Friend

        • May 17th 2018 @ 5:27am
          Richard POWELL said | May 17th 2018 @ 5:27am | ! Report

          My worst nightmare.

      • May 16th 2018 @ 9:11pm
        Paul said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:11pm | ! Report

        I’m watching on NRL 360 now that Fittler wants Mitchell Moses at 7 and Keary at 6.

        Jesus. Christ. I’ll take it with a pinch of salt but it would almost be cause to sack him immediately if Moses gets picked.

        • Columnist

          May 16th 2018 @ 9:39pm
          AJ Mithen said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:39pm | ! Report

          I saw that too, Paul. That’s a very long game Freddie’s thinking…

        • Roar Guru

          May 17th 2018 @ 9:29am
          The Barry said | May 17th 2018 @ 9:29am | ! Report

          There’s a “fresh approach” and then there’s just a dvmb erse being random…

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