Even without Smith, Queensland’s 17 are more than a match for the Blues

Tim Gore Columnist

By Tim Gore, Tim Gore is a Roar Expert

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    After 12 years of mostly losing to Queensland, the news that now Cam Smith will join Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston in retirement, effective immediately, has the confidence of NSW Blues fans skyrocketing.

    There are few things more horrific than endlessly gloating Queenslanders. And it has been endless.

    Since that horrible moment in Game 3 2006, when Brett Hodgson’s wayward pass from dummy half found Darren Lockyer, who stole the match and the series, it has been one long night – broken only briefly by the false dawn of 2014.

    11 series wins to a solitary one.
    24 wins to 12.
    678 points scored to 501.
    Two coaches to four.

    Now age has finally wearied the Maroons. Surely the nightmare is almost over?

    Here’s the problem with that: the Queensland side is still pretty damn good and may still have the measure of the Blues. Just look at this 17-man Origin squad.

    1. Billy Slater
    In Game 1 2017, Kevin Walters teared up as he announced that Billy Slater wasn’t in his squad.

    Big mistake.

    As soon as the Innisfail Flash was recalled, he instantly showed the class, skill and leadership we knew he had, and still had in spite of his shoulder issues.

    He will lead the Maroons with all of the determination, skill and focus that Smith and Darren Lockyer ever did. And he’ll throw in some great trash talk while he’s at it.

    Queensland: 29 games
    Australia: 30 games

    Billy Slater

    (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

    2. Darius Boyd
    He isn’t the most loveable bloke in the game but the Broncos captain is a class act and a superb finisher. He has been there, done that at rep level. While his form at NRL level has been in question, he is a strong and safe option on the wing and can cover most of the backline.

    More than capable of putting on a backline play in his own right, he knows how to beat the Blues.

    Queensland: 28 games
    Australia: 23 games

    3. Will Chambers
    One of my players of the 2017 series. His defence is rock solid and his ball running is brilliant. A zealot of the Cooper Cronk method, Chambers is a focused and serious footballer. He won’t be found wanting.

    Queensland: seven games
    Australia: seven games

    4. Dane Gagai
    Now at the Rabbitohs, Gagai has been a revelation at wing and centre over the last three years. He is a seasoned rep player with complete belief in his abilities who goes at 100 per cent with ball in hand.

    He bleeds Maroon and he’ll give no quarter to the Blues as he relentlessly charges into them at high speed, with greater strength than ever.

    Queensland: seven games
    Australia: five games

    5. Valentine Holmes
    This bloke is super quick and confident. A class finisher with great positioning and strong defence to boot. This season he is just starting to warm up in the NRL with seven tries, six line breaks and 120 metres a match.

    Queensland: two games
    Australia: 11 games

    6. Cameron Munster
    This kid is good. Very good. Just ask him.

    When Queensland dug in to win Game 3 in 2017, no one was fighting as hard as Munster. He was tough in defence but he was superb in attack. Munster attacked the Blues line remorselessly and with great success. 2018 is his time to step up to run the team.

    Queensland: one game
    Australia: two games

    7. Daly Cherry-Evans
    Too long this bloke has been in the shadow of Cronk. He has been apportioned the blame for Queensland’s one aberration – the loss of the 2014 series – in spite of Billy Slater, Cam Smith and Johnathan Thurston also being with him.

    Some will call for Ben Hunt because of his form with the Dragons. Some will suggest that Ash Taylor is the future. However, Cherry-Evans brings all-round talent – and leadership – that those two can’t match yet. He is the best-credentialled number seven option for Queensland and if they want to win he is the guy for the job.

    Queensland: six games
    Australia: 11 games

    Queensland player dale Cherry-Evans passes the ball during Game I of the 2014 State of Origin rugby league series at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Daly Cherry-Evans (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    So the backline looks pretty damn good. However, in the forwards things aren’t quite as rosy. To say that they’ll be happy that Andrew Fifita will no longer be in sky blue is an understatement.

    With Matt Gillett unavailable and Josh McGuire is severe doubt, the Maroons’ depth in the pack is shallow as the suspiciously warm toddlers’ pool.

    However, there is still some talent.

    8. Jarrod Wallace
    I never understood why the Broncos let this bloke go. He works hard, his tackling is good, and his ball-running determined. He will do a focused and determined job.

    Queensland: two games

    9. Andrew McCullough
    Yes, he’s not Cam Smith. But who is? Who has ever been as good as Smith? One of my favourite ever players was Queensland and Australian hooker Steve Walters, who was just huge at dummy half, and Smith eclipsed the great Boxhead years back.

    But don’t doubt McCullough. He is a superb dummy half and forward leader who has waited his turn and he is ready. To understand just how good he is, just look at how badly the Broncos go when he is out.

    Talk of Jake Friend is ridiculous and Jake Granville’s form isn’t good. It has to be McCullough.

    10. Matt Scott
    The boy from Ilfracombe will turn 33 on July 30, and his return from his 2017 knee injury hasn’t been all he and the Cowboys hoped.

    He is averaging just 86 metres a game, well down from his heyday when he and Aussie Jim Tamou were making 250-plus metres between them a match. However, Queensland need his experience and leadership in this side. He’s gotta be there.

    Queensland: 22 games
    Australia: 22 games

    11. Josh Papalii
    To Queensland’s relief, the big lad from Canberra, by way of Logan, is starting to find his best form again. As strong as a bull, he adds real grunt.

    Queensland: nine games
    Australia: nine games

    Maroons player Josh Papalii pushes Blues player Greg Bird

    Maroons player Josh Papalii (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    12. Coen Hess
    The huge Cowboy goes by the name ‘Drago’ given his remarkable likeness to the Dolph Lundgren behemoth from Rocky IV. And, just like the big Russian, Hess packs a huge punch. A very strong defender and powerful ball runner, he’ll be more than a handful for NSW.

    Queensland: two games

    13. Jai Arrow
    Another bloke the Broncos let get away, he’ll get his chance at lock due to Josh McGuire’s injury. However, he’s second only to Jason Taumololo in average run metres for lock forwards.

    The kid has more than stepped up this year. Now, he’s got to step up even more.

    14. Michael Morgan
    Morgan’s marshalling of his Cowboys last year showcased just how good this bloke is. He’ll be the bench utility covering the backs. He is well accustomed to the cauldron.

    Queensland: eight games
    Australia: 12 games

    15. Tim Glasby
    The Storm prop was brought in for Game 2 and 3 in 2017, and made a surprisingly good fist of it – even scoring a try. His 2018 season has been interrupted by injury, but if he’s fit he should get picked for a reprise.

    Queensland: two games

    16. Felise Kaufusi
    A strong-running backrower, capable of hitting holes and making lots of tackles. Now with an NRL premiership and a few Rugby League World Cup appearances for Australia under his belt.

    Australia: two games

    17. Tevita Pangai Jr
    This bloke is a fearsome chunk of meat and he’s just starting to hit some great form. He hits like a train in attack and defence. Why not?

    If Josh McGuire is fit then he’ll go to lock, Arrow to the bench and either Kaufusi or Pangai Jnr out.

    Who isn’t there?
    Dylan Napa hasn’t been up to scratch in attack or defence. Ben Hunt has been crash-hot for the Dragons, but I still lean towards DCE.

    And now to the elephant in the room: where’s Greg Inglis? To quote Derek Zoolander “Let me answer your question with a question”: who are you leaving out of that back five?

    Sure, the Maroons could use his leadership, but after a year out is he still the player he once was?

    This all sounds like a bit like the Slater-left-out-debacle of 2017. So, yeah, Inglis has to be in there. But who do you leave out? Boyd? Holmes?

    That’s a problem for Kevvie Walters I guess.

    However, while it is a scary new world for the Maroons post-Cam Smith, Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston, if the NSW Blues take this side lightly, they’ll find themselves once more watching Queensland lift the shield.

    Tim Gore
    Tim Gore

    Tim has been an NRL statistician for ABC Radio Grandstand since 1999, primarily as part of their Canberra coverage. Tim has loved rugby league since Sterlo was a kid with lots of hair but was cursed with having no personal sporting ability whatsoever. He couldn't take a hit in footy, was a third division soccer player making up numbers, plays off 41 in golf and is possibly the world's worst cricketer ever. He has always been good at arguing the point though and he has a great memory of what happened. Follow Tim on Twitter.

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    The Crowd Says (204)

    • May 16th 2018 @ 10:59pm
      Paul said | May 16th 2018 @ 10:59pm | ! Report

      Who do you leave out of that back five? The answer is obviously Boyd. His form is way down and is he even fully fit? He’s not playing like it. Gagai goes to the wing, Inglis to left centre.

      • Roar Guru

        May 17th 2018 @ 12:38pm
        Matt H said | May 17th 2018 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

        Are you ready to give up the Inglis-Boyd combination, which has been the most prolific try scoring combination in Origin history?

        • May 17th 2018 @ 1:28pm
          jimmmy said | May 17th 2018 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

          Even I would score a few playing outside GI.

          • May 17th 2018 @ 3:20pm
            Rob said | May 17th 2018 @ 3:20pm | ! Report

            LOL. I reckon it’s a bit like me passing him the ball for a try assist 10 meters from the line

        • May 17th 2018 @ 7:14pm
          Paul said | May 17th 2018 @ 7:14pm | ! Report

          Simple answer. Yes. Boyd has not been playing well enough for a while now. Gagai cannot be dropped after last year and although Holmes’ form has been patchy, I still think he is playing better than Darius. And he can apparently kick goals. Inglis is playing well after his comeback, he will be in the team. He might even be captain.

    • Roar Guru

      May 16th 2018 @ 11:07pm
      Michael Keeffe said | May 16th 2018 @ 11:07pm | ! Report

      Tim as a Queenslander I have to think you are a New South Welshmen just trying to take us for a ride.

      No Inglis? He will be QLD captain this year. Either Boyd or Holmes won’t play. I would have thought they would pick Boyd for sure but we need a goal kicker and Holmes might just be it.

      DCE – little chance of that happening. Hunt is killing it.

      Napa will play in place of Tevita Pangai Jnr for a couple of reasons. Firstly TPJ has declared he will only play for Tonga and won’t play origin and secondly because if he did play Origin he would be eligible for NSW only!!! And on top of that Napa is a good player.

      However I do agree with you that Queensland will again be good enough to win origin this year.

      • Roar Guru

        May 17th 2018 @ 7:49am
        Rellum said | May 17th 2018 @ 7:49am | ! Report

        Yes I am surprised Tim got that so wrong about TPJ..

        • May 17th 2018 @ 1:30pm
          Rob said | May 17th 2018 @ 1:30pm | ! Report

          Tim is not really thinking about what he’s writing in this article. Inglis will one of the first selected and possibly Captain. Napa would be huge omission considering the lack of big men. He had a big presence in the Roosters win over the weekend.

      • Roar Guru

        May 17th 2018 @ 9:20am
        Mango Jack said | May 17th 2018 @ 9:20am | ! Report

        DCE is a divisive figure, so I hope they pick him over Hunt. If things start going pear-shaped for Qld, I want Cherry there pointing fingers at his team mates, then it may all fall apart. Finally.

        Tim, you have to be kidding about Inglis, right? He will be one of the first picked, and as captain. Unfortunately.

      • Columnist

        May 17th 2018 @ 10:27am
        Tim Gore said | May 17th 2018 @ 10:27am | ! Report

        Didn’t know Tevita had declared his allegiance for Tonga only…
        But If Milford can play for QLD then so can Tevita. Both were eligible for NSW for the same reason. Both played first senior game in ACT/NSW.
        Both are from Logan but developed in ACT. That didn’t seem to matter with Milford at all.
        DCE is a better match winner than Hunt. Hunt is currently in a miles better team than DCE but DCE is the superior half.
        I said that Inglis must play, I just don’t know who to leave out. I don’t like Boyd as a human (his public persona – I don’t know him personally at all) but his big game experience is unquestioned. He knows how to put people away and chime into backlines.

        • Columnist

          May 17th 2018 @ 10:37am
          Tim Gore said | May 17th 2018 @ 10:37am | ! Report

          Strewth! You are correct. Tevita is a New South Welshman! All this time I’ve though he came down from Logan with Papalii, Brenko and Edrick Lee, and Milford.
          Well there you go!
          OK, Put Felise Kaufusi in 17.
          I’m still not picking Napa.

          • Roar Guru

            May 17th 2018 @ 10:42am
            Rellum said | May 17th 2018 @ 10:42am | ! Report

            Yeah, he grew up in newcastle I believe.

            • Roar Guru

              May 17th 2018 @ 2:18pm
              spruce moose said | May 17th 2018 @ 2:18pm | ! Report

              Where is newcastle?

              That’s in Queensland!

              Queensland everywhere!

              • May 17th 2018 @ 6:03pm
                Kangajets said | May 17th 2018 @ 6:03pm | ! Report

                I thought he was a Newcastle lad

                Is Newcastle in Queensland too now

          • Roar Guru

            May 17th 2018 @ 10:50am
            Rellum said | May 17th 2018 @ 10:50am | ! Report

            Well, actually he is not NSWmen. He has cosen Tonga.

        • May 17th 2018 @ 12:41pm
          DLKN said | May 17th 2018 @ 12:41pm | ! Report

          Didn’t you see Gene Miles on the news? He’s the Qld Chair of Selectors, and he said that if they’re fit, Hunt and Morgan will be the halves. Munster on the bench.

          Geno would never say something as definitive as that without the coach being aware and in agreement.

          Barring injuries, that’s the end of that debate.

        • May 17th 2018 @ 1:28pm
          Fraser said | May 17th 2018 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

          Wait, you don’t know Boyd personally, bit you don’t like him as a human? Tim, that’s pretty awful.

          • Columnist

            May 17th 2018 @ 1:53pm
            Tim Gore said | May 17th 2018 @ 1:53pm | ! Report

            Look, he’s treated a number of my colleagues in the press pretty awfully without good reason.

            That’s one example only.
            There was a really horrid one where the female journalist was asking him questions as he was coming out of the hotel and he treated her like dirt. Completely unnecessary and uncalled for.
            She was just doing a QLD Origin win follow up story and asking questions like how much he’d enjoyed it.
            She wasn’t digging dirt in any way. It was harmless and a quick response was all that was called for.
            He decided to belittle her and make her feel bad.
            I’ve been that soldier too.
            I hold people who do that in low regard.
            So yeah, not a huge fan of the bloke as a person (as I make clear above, the public persona) but as I’ve put him in my 17 I do rate him as a player.

            • Roar Guru

              May 17th 2018 @ 2:55pm
              Emcie said | May 17th 2018 @ 2:55pm | ! Report

              I gotta be honest mate, if you tried to interview me as I was leaving a hotel hungover in the morning and were asking mundane questions I probably would’ve made Boyd look polite in comparison.

              But to be fair on Boyd, he has put a lot of mork into his media comitments since coming out of rehab

              • May 17th 2018 @ 3:22pm
                DLKN said | May 17th 2018 @ 3:22pm | ! Report

                How does he do that? Does he start with “Nanu Nanu”?

              • Columnist

                May 17th 2018 @ 4:59pm
                Tim Gore said | May 17th 2018 @ 4:59pm | ! Report

                But what if you were representing a state team, getting paid $30,000 a match?
                It is valid to ask that person questions. It is newsworthy. And if you want to play SOO you’ve got to understand that – if you want people not to think you’re a jerk.

              • Roar Guru

                May 17th 2018 @ 5:21pm
                Emcie said | May 17th 2018 @ 5:21pm | ! Report

                We’re probably on different sides of the fence here and I’m not sure anything either of us will say will have much of an effect on the others opinion but I don’t agree that being part of a representative team gives the media the right to 27/7 access anymore than being in a movie gives photographers the right to stalk actors/actresses.

                Boyd clearly had a bad rep with the media for a while but he has done a lot to work on that since his breakdown, I just don’t find it easy to sympathise with the jurnalist in that particular example

              • Roar Guru

                May 17th 2018 @ 5:47pm
                Rellum said | May 17th 2018 @ 5:47pm | ! Report

                Yes Journo’s have the right to ask questions, but Boyd has the right not to answer them. This myth that players need to be available to the media 24/7 needs to stop. All they use it for is inane questions. Players need to be available for official marketing requirements but they are not the Journo’s slaves.

                Any Journo’s who think “how much did you enjoyed last nights Origin?” is a valid question or newsworthy probably need to find another vocation. I have no problem with anyone given that sort of question the contempt it deserves, not the Journo, but the question. Maybe then Journo’s might ask some actual questions.

              • Roar Guru

                May 17th 2018 @ 10:32pm
                The Barry said | May 17th 2018 @ 10:32pm | ! Report

                I disagree with this. Players earn their money through the public paying for Foxtel, tickets, memberships, etc. having access to the players helps pay for that.

                A journo asking a couple of questions outside the team hotel is hardly being on demand 24/7. Come on.

                It’s absolutely fine if he doesn’t want to talk but there’s no need to be rude and hostile to a female journalist and act like a tool. And it’s far from a one off from Boyd.

            • Roar Rookie

              May 17th 2018 @ 8:04pm
              Bunney said | May 17th 2018 @ 8:04pm | ! Report

              I actually love Boyd in that interview… hilarious!

            • May 18th 2018 @ 10:00am
              Marshall said | May 18th 2018 @ 10:00am | ! Report

              Gee whiz.

              Casting aspersions on someone as a human because they have been a bit rude to the press, during times in their life that they have been publically combating mental health issues?

              Harsh Tim, very harsh.

      • Columnist

        May 17th 2018 @ 10:29am
        Tim Gore said | May 17th 2018 @ 10:29am | ! Report

        And Napa misses lots of tackles, plays small minutes and his impact has dropped right away.

        • May 17th 2018 @ 2:05pm
          Rob said | May 17th 2018 @ 2:05pm | ! Report

          I’m not sure Napa‘s missed tackles are the same as Maloney’s. I think players try stepping around him? There’s a difference between being pushed off and stepped as a front rower.

        • Roar Guru

          May 17th 2018 @ 3:36pm
          Michael Keeffe said | May 17th 2018 @ 3:36pm | ! Report

          Yeah I have to admit I didn’t realise how many tackles Napa misses defensively. Putting on a big hit is one thing but I did some research and out of the 32 starting front rowers this weekend he is one of the worst 5 defensively in terms of missed tackles. Interestingly one of the guys who is slightly worse than him is Regan Campbell Gillard.

          • Roar Guru

            May 17th 2018 @ 4:48pm
            Nat said | May 17th 2018 @ 4:48pm | ! Report

            It’s only 2p/g. IMO, if they are above 85% efficiency it’s a pass mark.

            • Columnist

              May 17th 2018 @ 5:00pm
              Tim Gore said | May 17th 2018 @ 5:00pm | ! Report

              But lots of those two turn into line breaks and tries.

              • Roar Guru

                May 17th 2018 @ 5:56pm
                Nat said | May 17th 2018 @ 5:56pm | ! Report

                My biggest concern is his penalties. 9 so far when he’s only averaged 10 p/season.

    • May 17th 2018 @ 5:46am
      Busty McCracken said | May 17th 2018 @ 5:46am | ! Report

      I’m glad to see somw articles floating around in this vein. Qld has built an incredible environment and has the systems in place to not just fall to the scrap heap on account of Cam JT and Cronk not being on the field.

      Is such a shame that we have been waiting for this day for 12 years, yet we are still in a rebuilding phase. The frustrations of being a cockroach. Go blues

    • May 17th 2018 @ 5:51am
      Stephen Irvine said | May 17th 2018 @ 5:51am | ! Report

      No way ben hunt gets left out for out of form dce
      Inglis will be in the side
      So should corey oates

      • Columnist

        May 17th 2018 @ 10:30am
        Tim Gore said | May 17th 2018 @ 10:30am | ! Report

        Oates could come in to cover back row?

    • May 17th 2018 @ 6:07am
      Swannies said | May 17th 2018 @ 6:07am | ! Report

      Things starting to fall into place for the Blues…3-0 whitewash coming up for NSW. Not taking Maroons lightly but Freddie’s men will be too skilled and too strong. Have the champagne on ice!

      • May 17th 2018 @ 7:00am
        Duncan Smith said | May 17th 2018 @ 7:00am | ! Report

        Not taking Maroons lightly but predicting a 3-0 whitewash and ordering champagne?

        • May 17th 2018 @ 6:07pm
          Kangajets said | May 17th 2018 @ 6:07pm | ! Report

          Swannies wants buddy Franklin to play for the blues .

    • May 17th 2018 @ 6:40am
      Duncan Smith said | May 17th 2018 @ 6:40am | ! Report

      Agreed with you except for Inglis. In the words of John McEnroe, ‘you cannot be serious.’ Must be at centre with Chambers.

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