Kevin Walters will likely define his prospects as a future NRL coach based on how he handles the ‘backs to the wall’ dilemma his Maroon captain Cam Smith has put him in after retiring from rep footy this week.
Smith pointed out during his presser that it was a “weight off his shoulders” that he had played his last rep footy. Sitting next to the captain, however, his Maroon coach added that the weight had been transferred to him.
He was correct, but this also presents a wonderful opportunity to re-engineer a Maroon team for the future.
There is no shortage of extreme Queensland spine talent who have been jogging on the spot for years waiting for Thurston, Cronk and now Smith to retire.
Cam Munster has claimed Thurston’s prized number six jersey, and it seemed that Ben Hunt was pencilled in for Cooper Cronks number seven shirt. But with skipper Smith now gone, a re-think is in order.
Most pundits have Bronco workhorse Andrew McCullough as the new Maroon hooker despite his recent injury and his six missed tackles last week.
NSW selectors Greg Alexander, Danny Buderus and coach Brad Fittler would not lose any sleep if McCullough is Smith’s replacement.
I don’t believe the Maroons can defeat the Blues in this year’s Origin with McCullough as hooker. He is a similar type to the Blues 2017 hooker, Nathan Peats, who will make 50-plus tackles and not scare anyone with the ball in hand.
Cam Smith was part of a Maroon team that had 11 series wins based on an exciting attacking philosophy. To go ‘negative’ would be counterproductive.
They need to ensure that they can score 22 points and select a spine that will keep the Blues hierarchy up at night.
National coach Mal Meninga has suggested a traditional hooker be selected, but with respect to the great man – he should stay out of the debate.
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An Andrew McCullough-type would be fine as a Kangaroo against England or New Zealand, but the Maroons need a greater skillset from their number nine as the opposition is superior.
With McCullough clearly not a 100 per cent fit at the moment, and the Roosters tackling machine Jake Friend playing with the cracked sternum – an opportunity exists to enhance the Maroon spine with some brilliant alternatives.
Ben Hunt is the in-form NRL halfback, but also an accomplished hooker. If he was named as the Maroon hooker, the gate would open for the exciting young halfback Ash Taylor to debut.
Cam Smith’s high defence rate is easily copied by a McCullough or Friend, but the greatest void is his game management.
No player is better at executing last tackle options than the Titans’ Taylor. His try assist success rate off his sublime tactical short kicking is as good as we have seen in the modern era.
He should be part of Queensland’s future. Combined with Hunt, they would cause the Blues a nightmare.
Michael Morgan would remain on the bench and be able to step into the breach at any time to replace either Taylor or Hunt.
Daly Cherry-Evans would walk into the NSW team and is another brilliant alternative who could play seven, nine or 14.
Taylor and Cherry-Evans are also goal kickers, another affliction on coach Walter’s shoulders.
New captain – Billy Slater
New hooker – Ben Hunt
New halfback – Ash Taylor