Imagine you shared a marker and a whiteboard at NRL Central with the Australian selectors as they mapped a likely squad for the end of year Tests.
You put your first-choice team at the left of the board and built variations to the right. The side selected would be out in the Pacific Ocean somewhere (apologies to the geographers if my direction is out).
Mathematicians would refer to such a rare combination from a set of data as a statistical outlier. Mal Meninga just calls it a new era.
Let’s take a look at some of the events that have led to this 17 being selected.
Early in 2018, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater retired from Test football, as did Darius Boyd.
There have been injuries to Matt Gillett, James Maloney, Wade Graham, Michael Morgan and Kalyn Ponga.
Josh Dugan, Blake Ferguson, Will Chambers and Trent Merrin have had form slumps.
Then, in the last week, we had Greg Inglis’ incident, and Cam Munster stepping down.
More twists and turns followed, as Tom Trbojevic was named at centre, Dane Gagai (bought in to cover Inglis) moved to wing and Ben Hunt on the bench.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with anyone making the side – on the contrary, I support the inclusion of debutants Latrell Mitchell and James Tedesco, who have both had super seasons.
Damien Cook is a fan favourite who has worked his way up the hard way, while Daly Cherry Evans fought his way back after being banished from the representative scene.
Luke Keary is well aware he has timed his run to perfection and parlayed his Churchill Medal performance into a Test jersey. On recent form, he deserves to be there.
Jordan McLean, with only ten games to his credit after recovering from a severe foot injury, is perhaps the beneficiary of the selectors’ faith and solid past performances. Minus the injury concern, the same could be said for Aaron Woods and Josh McGuire. Once again, no argument from me.
All have taken different paths to the same destination but so many sliding-door moments have created one of the most unpredictable lineups ever.
I’ve always liked an underdog story and I will be saving an extra cheer for the likes of Cook, Keary and Cherry-Evans.