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Maroons rebuild starts on Thursday

Kalyn Ponga (C) of the Maroons sings the national anthem before game two of the State of Origin series. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
8th July, 2018
79

Maroon fans are doing it tough at the moment, in anticipation of a new winning era – the re-engineering commences this Thursday.

The 2018 Origin series is lost, and search parties are out trying to fill the sinkhole left by Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and, next year, Billy Slater.

It is to be seen if Greg Inglis and Matt Scott will put their hands up for Queensland again.

If there were a cap on Origin salaries, then Kevin Walters has just lost $5 million. In NRL terms that is more than half your team in value.

NSW have a population advantage of 2.9 million, and arguably could produce a B-team that would be equal to the team who plays the Maroons on Wednesday night to attempt an undefeated series.

We have seen enough to suggest that all is not lost for the Sunshine State, and they will have a very young and exciting team next year.

They are not lacking in talent, only combinations and experience.

Kalyn Ponga coming in for fullback great Slater is a more than an acceptable start, and if he finishes his season at the Knights as well as he started, then he will make it very difficult to hand the famed Kangaroos No.1 jersey to James Tedesco.

With the retirement of Slater, the national selectors cannot complain about the calibre of alternatives – they cannot lose!

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It is much easier for the Maroon selectors and Ponga promises to make the same huge impression that his predecessor did; in fact, his figures are more impressive than Slater at the same age.

Kalyn Ponga

Kalyn Ponga (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

David Fifita will be just 19 come next year’s series, and he has only played 97 minutes of NRL, but he will be a ten-year Origin player, and he is that good that he may well start next year on the bench.

Fifita is of Indigenous Australian and Tongan descent and is as good a schoolboy rugby league player as we have seen in modern times.

Selectors are typically hesitant to blood their young players at the highest level, but they showed by selecting Ponga in Game 2 that they will invest early if they show enough at NRL level. Ponga did just that and Fifita could easily follow his path.

Ashley Taylor, 23, is as promising as they come, but co-selector Darryn Lockyer sees “holes in his game” and wants to wait.

One hole Taylor does not have is his short tactical-kicking game, which is as good as Ricky Stuart and Andrew Johns.

He has the amazing skill to seemingly always squeeze the ball between ankles and win another seven tackles or a try, something lacking for the Maroons in Game 2 when the game was there to be won.

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He also is a genuine organising halfback, who would complement the running game of Cam Munster. He would also combine well with Daly Cherry-Evans, but one of them moving to pivot won’t happen.

Ash Taylor

Photo by Jason O’Brien/Getty Images

The DCE ‘experiment’ in Game 3 will be interesting, but long term, his best chance appears to be as a utility off the bench.

Both Munster and DCE are immense talents but logically they are not the long-term answer as they are too similar.

What coach Walters does at halfback will define exactly how quickly the Maroons win back the interstate trophy. Assuming Munster is the long-term 6, the choice is between Michael Morgan, Cherry-Evans and Taylor as his partner.

Getting this correct will not only define Queensland’s future, but also will impact if Walters is re-signed beyond next year, as his former Broncos boss Wayne Bennett is also off contract and he may well be in the market for a job.

Morgan is the likely Queensland captain after Inglis, so it would be unlikely that he is not in the starting 13 somewhere.

Jai Arrow has been their best forward and he finally wins a starting berth in Game 3. The only surprise is that it took so long! He is not the big middle-forward to succeed Scott, but he has a huge motor and is outstanding with and without the ball.

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Other promising forwards include Junior Kangaroo Jaydn Su’A and Broncos teammate Joe Ofahengaue.

Certain selections for the 2019 Origin renewal who will not play this Wednesday night are Matt Gillett and Morgan, who may surprise and run out as a centre next year if DCE goes well in Game 3, or it is agreed it’s Taylor time.

Replacing Cam Smith remains the greatest challenge. In Game 3, the Maroons are expected to cover his hooking position by utilising two players– tackling machine Andrew McCullough, who will start, and then Ben Hunt coming on to create dummy-half runs and hopefully points.

This strategy will take up an extra interchange just to stay competitive with the Blues’ Damien Cook, who will be an easy selection decision as the next Kangaroo No.9.

Enjoy Game 3, for Billy Slater walking off at fulltime will be the end of a generational player and an amazing era.

Thanks for the memories, Billy.