At long last some more pieces of the 2020 Queensland State of Origin puzzle have been revealed.
After finally settling on Wayne Bennett as interim coach, they have now announced the first tranche of their 27-man squad, naming the following 15 players from the ten teams whose competition duties are now over:
Gold Coast Titans
Jai Arrow, A J Brimson, Moeaki Fotuaika and Phillip Sami.
Edrick Lee, Hymel Hunt and Kalyn Ponga
North Queensland Cowboys
Valentine Holmes and Coen Hess
Xavier Coates and Patrick Carrigan
St George Illawarra Dragons
Ben Hunt and Josh Kerr
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
The remaining 12 players will presumably come from the six teams still contesting the finals, although players who have currently missed out could get a call-up.
There were lots and lots of surprises from this round of selection.
The surprise omissions
Ashley Taylor has been one of the Titans’ best during their resurgence in the second half of the season and has finally recaptured the form that earnt him the massive contract upgrade a few years ago. Coach Wayne Bennett must have some good halves up his sleeve if he can afford the leave Taylor out.
Jarrod Wallace has played six games for Queensland over the last few years and his form for the resurgent Titans has been equal, if not better than, the form of highly rated teammate Jai Arrow.
Joe Ofahengaue, the Brisbane enforcer, played two games for Queensland last year and, in the absence of Josh McGuire, was expected to play the same role once again this year. However, few Broncos forwards could have been confident of selection after their poor efforts this year.
Kurt Mann has been one of Newcastle’s best all season, initially handling the five-eighth role with ease and then filling in at hooker after the club lost several No. 9s to injury. He looked to be the ideal bench player, and his omission is hard to reconcile.
Josh McGuire, like David Klemmer, who has been omitted by New South Wales, has played 14 of the last 15 Origin games, including all three matches last year. McGuire plays his football somewhere just past the legal limits and is a player who thrives in the rough stuff of Origin. Obviously with both Ofahengaue and McGuire omitted Bennett is looking for something different from his engine room this year.
Moses Mbye played all three games for Queensland last year, two off the bench and one at centre. He also has experience at club level in the halves and at fullback. While not in the best of form this year, he may consider himself unlucky.
The surprise selections
Phillip Sami’s name wasn’t on anyone’s Queensland Origin team sheet at the start of the season. However, his recent form has been rewarded with selection, partially due to a lack of competition for wing spots. Sami won’t disappoint, though. He’s big and exceptionally fast, and he knows the way to the try line.
Moeaki Fotuaika will be 21 by the time Origin 1 comes around, and while he lacks the experience of some of the overlooked front-row contenders, he doesn’t lack either size or the ability to take the ball forward. He has been a revelation for the Titans this year.
Edrick Lee has been somewhat of a journeyman, notching up 116 appearances for three clubs over nine years. Nearly two metres tall, he’s going to win most aerial battles, but his defence and handling haven’t always been up to the standard required for Origin. I wish him luck.
Hymel Hunt’s an honest first-grader who can handle both wing and centre, but he’s a long way from the top echelon of outside backs in the NRL. Another interesting selection by Bennett.
Valentine Holmes is the only winger selected so far with Origin experience. He’s failed to recapture the form he had before pursuing his NFL dream. A prolific try-scorer for both Queensland and Australia in the past, he looks certain to be on one wing when the teams run out in Games 2 and 3. Unfortunately he’ll spend Game 1 on the sideline, serving a one-match suspension.
Coen Hess exploded onto the scene when he hit the NRL, but his performances over the last two years have been ordinary. He’d have to consider himself lucky to make the interim squad, and I can’t see him actually getting a game once the series gets underway.
Xavier Coates could be anything. Tall, big and exceptionally quick, but at 19 years of age and with just 15 first-grade games under his belt his selection looks to be a real gamble. I’m not sure that his defence is at first-grade level yet, let alone Origin standard.
Josh Kerr is another one from left field. He’s a young giant with a big future but has failed to establish himself in a Dragons pack that performed abysmally during the season. He doesn’t yet have the work rate or authority for Origin.
We know that underestimating Wayne Bennett can lead to embarrassment, but to me the players selected are an odd bunch, and he may regret overlooking some of the more experienced players mentioned above.
The 15 selected so far include four inexperienced wingers and two inexperienced prop forwards. I guess we’ll have to wait to see who gets selected from here on in before we write the Maroons off.