After last season’s ‘worst team ever’ won the series against all odds, the pressure is now on the Maroons to go two in a row.
No longer under the tutelage of the great Wayne Bennett, Paul Green will seek to send a strong and clear message to Brad Fittler that these Maroons aren’t going to be pushed over.
Queensland will need to showcase the same passion and effort that got them over the line last series against a NSW team that could be even stronger than last season.
With a more complete squad this season, Maroons fans will be expecting another strong series with the potential to start another dynasty.
This is how they should line up.
1. Kalyn Ponga
The superstar Newcastle fullback is potentially out of Game 1 with a groin injury, but if fit, he will beat out Titans pocket rocket AJ Brimson to the starting fullback spot and bring his signature flare to the Queensland spine. A transition to five-eighth could be on the cards if Cam Munster is unable to play.
2. Xavier Coates
One of the most athletic bodies in the NRL, Broncos youngster Xavier Coates burst onto the Origin scene last year and his edge combination with Queensland hero Dane Gagai will be pivotal to another series win for the Maroons.
3. Dane Gagai
The easiest selection out of both teams, Dane Gagai understands what State of Origin is and shows it. His passion is unmatched. Gagai will once again illustrate what being a Queenslander means.
4. Kurt Capewell
A return to the centres is on the cards for Penrith second-rower Kurt Capewell. His ability to defend out of position was huge for Queensland last series and expect the Charleville man to step up for his state yet again.
5. Valentine Holmes
Holmes is having a resurgent year with the Cowboys, with the masterful finisher wanting to remind everyone why he deserves this wing spot. With nine tries in seven games, NSW will need their edge defence to be on top of their game all series.
6. Cam Munster
Last year’s Wally Lewis medallist is under a shadow of injury doubt. NSW fans will be praying the star man isn’t available as the game-breaking five-eighth has proven time and time again he can win those big-game moments.
7. Daly Cherry-Evans
The Queensland captain, Cherry-Evans has earned his place and truly grown into the Origin player he is after a disastrous 2014 debut. His kicking and game management will be vital to Queensland winning the series.
8. Jai Arrow
The Rabbitohs enforcer will be shifting to the prop spot in place of suspended Josh Papalii. He is looking to continue his solid form on the Origin paddock. Arrow will aim to show he should start come Game 2.
9. Reed Mahoney
The Parramatta hooker is the starting nine not only due to Harry Grant’s recent injury but his own stellar play so far in 2021. With ten try assists in 11 games, Mahoney has answered critics’ views on his attacking play, with the predominantly defensive nine taking his game to another level this season.
10. Christian Welch
Consistency is key to winning and Christian Welch displays this week in and week out for the Storm. The prop is one of the first names on the team list. His effort will be a defining factor if Queensland’s forwards can win the battle of the pack.
11. Felise Kaufusi
Kaufusi is currently fighting a tripping charge handed to him on Thursday night. The hard-hitting edge defender returns to the Origin paddock. Another consistent performer, Kaufusi will provide the Maroons with experience in the forward pack and knowledge on how to win big games.
12. David Fifita
The game-wrecking back rower will make his return to the Origin line-up after missing last year’s series through injury. Fifita brings line-breaking play unseen before, though he will have to make sure he stays in the game for the full 80, with criticism coming about his ability to play throughout a game.
13. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
Fa’asuamaleaui brought back a real feeling of what Origin means last year, with an unquestionable effort level and hunger to win. Fa’asuamaleaui will be looking forward to his battle with Payne Haas.
14. Jaydn Su’A
He will start in place of Kaufusi in case of suspension. The hard-hitting Rabbitoh was part of the winning squad last season and brings some of the biggest hits in the NRL to the Origin arena. Paul Green will have to make sure these shots are controlled as the new rules may affect Su’A more than most.
15. Harry Grant
The electric Melbourne Storm player had one of the most memorable debuts in Origin history in Game 3 of last year’s series and will be hoping to bring that same energy from the bench. That can push Queensland over the line.
16. AJ Brimson
The Brisbane-born fullback will aim to have a Karmicheal Hunt/Billy Slater-like impact from the bench for Queensland, however through injury he may well be moved into the starting team. He will move into the team at fullback if either Munster or Ponga are injured.
17. Moeaki Fotuaika
The Titans wrecking ball rounds out the Queensland prop rotation. With his Origin experience last year and strong running, Fotuaika will be aiming to have a big impact from the bench.
18. Ben Hunt
Hunt has a lot of Origin experience and given the touch-and-go nature of both Ponga and Munster’s injuries, he may be required to pull on a starting jersey. He will move to five-eighth if both Ponga and Munster are injured. He will move to 14 if only one is injured.
This group of players are unlucky to miss out and will definitely be in Paul Green’s view if injury and suspension continue to plague the Maroons team: Josh Kerr (who will come onto the bench if Kaufusi is suspended), Thomas Flegler, Dunamis Lui, Corey Horsburgh, Jarrod Wallace, Phillip Sami, Kurt Mann (who moves into 18th man if Hunt is moved onto the bench, and who moves onto the bench if Hunt starts), and Corey Allan (who moves into 18th man if Mann moves to the bench).