Here it is. Kevin Walters Queensland team for State of Origin Game 1 in Brisbane. The changing of the Queensland guard is now complete.
Billy Slater is gone, Darius Boyd is finished, Greg Inglis too. They’ve played more Origins than some players in this squad have NRL matches.
Last year, Queensland blooded three rookies in Andrew McCullough, Jai Arrow and Felise Kaufusi. This year, there are three more: Joe Ofahengaue, David Fifita and Moses Mbye.
Getting done 2-1 in last year’s series would be burning at Walters, particularly as the Maroons had plenty of chances to do better. Is this the team to take advantage of a somewhat dinged-up New South Wales and right the wrongs of 2018? Let’s find out. It’ll certainly need to be a champion team, because the team of champions era is over.
Let’s start with the rookies.
The Wests Tigers captain has been a steady hand in a side that has had some wild performance swings from one week to the next. Mbye won’t take the fullback spot off Kalyn Ponga, but he can play in the halves, centres or wing if required.
Mbye could even show up at hooker for a spell. He’ll pop up in support and he’ll sweep in defence and will do it well. He’s under a slight injury doubt with a groin complaint, but is expected to be fit enough to go.
Fifita is one of the latest graduates from the emerging Maroons squad to hit the big stage. He’s selected for a driving run and consistent defence, but it’s likely to be a taster series for him. If Fifita does get a game, don’t expect him to play big minutes – he’s come off the bench nine times out of eleven games this season.
I thought Walters should have blooded Ofahengaue last season, but he’s been steady for the Broncos and now he gets his shot. Broncos fans love him and it’s obvious why – he picks up metres, then he picks up attackers. I’m really looking forward to how Ofahengaue goes on the big stage.
Gillett missed last year’s Origin series as he recovered from a serious neck injury. He took the time to get some shoulder surgery done to take care of all his ailments, and it has paid off with another Queensland selection to add to his 18 Origin matches. He’s a proven performer who’ll be a great leader for the young forwards.
Chambers has plenty to prove this year after being clowned over and over again by Latrell Mitchell in 2018. He’s still one of the best centres in the world, and he’ll be amped up like never before. Can he keep focused and show what he’s capable of?
Gagai scores tries in Origin. Lots of them. He’s got nine in ten games. He also gets through a lot of unnoticed grunt work, with the joint most metres after contact in last year’s series (145, tied with player of the series, James Tedesco). No matter what you think of Gagai’s club form, when he’s in maroon, he does the job for Walters. That’s why he’s here.
Current leader of the Dally M Medal voting, Munster is in sensational form for Melbourne and has even more expectation on his shoulders this series. He’ll need to drag some of his younger teammates along to deal with the Origin ‘cauldron’… But he’s up to it, there’s no doubt.
Cherry-Evans was doing good work with an unfenced Manly side until needing surgery on a syndesmosis injury, rugby league’s most popular injury. He’ll be rustier than a farmhouse gate but he’s still plenty good enough to direct the side around the park. His ability to keep James Tedesco et al pinned to the corners will be crucial.
It has been an interesting season so far for Hunt. He’s here in a utility capacity, not unlike Michael Morgan. His time in the halves for Queensland was not what it could have been, so he’ll play a bit of time at hooker where his quick thinking can pay dividends as long as he can stop missing tackles (currently missing four each game).
McGuire was good for Queensland last year, playing on a completely crocked ankle. His defence will be called upon time and time again and he can give a good settling run to get into position. He’s also got a nice whack of ‘Origin grunt’ about him which Kevin Walters just loves.
Papalii is in sensational form as a mobile front rower for Canberra and he knows what playing Origin is all about. He’ll give great service and is a danger to New South Wales in defence and with ball in hand with swift feet and a great nose for an offload. Papalii will be one of the Maroons’ key figures in 2019.
Origin is all about getting through huge amounts of work and Arrow is the perfect selection. Making ground is fundamental to success and Arrow showed last series that he can take a hit and keep rolling. He’s third in the NRL for post-contact metres (591) and that’s gold in the Wednesday night games.
He’s bringing the Cowboys’ season back to life and he’s ready to do the same for his state. Morgan played fullback last year in Melbourne, then worked his way around the backline and he’s likely to do so this year, starting off in the centres.
Kaufusi continues putting in solid shifts for the Storm (31 tackles at 91 per cent to go with 101 metres). In his Origin debut last year he was caught short a couple of times by Latrell Mitchell and James Roberts, but he overcame that and was pretty good.
Napa seems to have secured a spot in the Maroons side based on loyalty more than anything. He has been good, not great for his new club the Bulldogs and he didn’t really set the world alight last Origin series either. If he’s going to be around for all three games, he really needs to provide a (legal) spark in defence to show the way for his younger teammates.
After making the most anticipated Origin debut for a Queenslander since Billy Slater, Ponga settles in wearing his customary number 1. Ponga was unfazed by the Origin theatre last year and he’s coming right into some great form too. Blue or maroon, you’ll be watching to see what he can do.
Oates scores tries and he covers a lot of ground. Get him near the line, and anything can happen. Part of that is a chance for an error. He’s got a few in him, with his 21 in 11 games tied for the competition lead.
The eighteenth man. Glasby is a reliable performer who is a great leader of those around him. His move to Newcastle has been good – he does his job in the second row and that consistency of performance will be an anchor for the Maroons.