Queensland stunned the rugby league universe to win State of Origin last year, and the team to back-up and attempt to make it two in a row has been confirmed this morning.
Injuries and suspensions have played their part on the men from north of the Tweed and, while the location of Game 1 has been almost as hotly debated as the team selection thanks to Melbourne’s COVID outbreak, the Maroons proved last year they could be playing on the moon with their seventh-choice team and still hand a significant challenge for the Blues.
Here is the 20-man squad, named in alphabetical order.
Arrow’s move to South Sydney hasn’t been quite as sweet as he would have hoped, with the Rabbitohs conceding 50 twice in the last month. That is hardly Arrow’s fault though, with the former Titans middle-third option playing mainly from the bench, yet averaging north of 110 metres per game, tackling at 92 per cent and providing a stack of offloads.
Arrow will be a solid option to start things for the Maroons, just as he has been this year at Redfern, often getting Souths to go to another gear when he has come onto the park. Don’t be surprised to see a last-minute swap between him and Moeaki Fotuaika either.
Brimson made an excellent debut in the Origin arena last year, however, only played Game 1 after sustaining a Lisfranc fracture.
The form which would have made the Titans a top eight outfit last year had he not spent so much time out with injury has sustained into this year. Six tries in 12 games, six try assists, 26 tackle breaks, eight line breaks, 168 metres per game and solid defence all around.
There is no doubt he will be able to slot in at centre as well if Queensland elect to go that way, given their fullback options, but he won’t (and didn’t) look out of place in the Origin arena.
A strong option for the Maroons no matter where he lines up, Capewell was one player who looked way out of place on the team sheet, but not so on the park during last year’s shock series victory for the Maroons.
The 27-year-old brings versatility to the Queensland squad, but also plenty of agility and strength playing in either the centres or second row. He has had a knack of finding the tryline this year too with five in ten games, and while he gets overshadowed, there is no doubt Capewell is an important part of the Penrith side.
Daly Cherry-Evans (c)
The much-maligned Queensland skipper made the Origin arena his own last year, and he has all the traits and abilities to make it work. With one of the best kicking games particularly from short range in the competition, it’s not hard to see why the Manly half is so important to the Maroons, just as he is at club level.
While he has seven try assists in twelve games this year, Cherry-Evans also kicks an average of almost 360 metres per game, constantly turning possession around in the right areas. Add to that, he is now an exceptionally experienced Origin player, and the risky decision to make him captain of the state is paying off.
Coates might still have some deficiencies in the defensive side of his game, which the Blues will look to exploit, but he was always going to be picked in this Queensland side.
While some would argue Kyle Feldt may have been a better option, Coates has the height and leaping ability which will make him so dangerous playing on the back of one of the competition’s best kicking games in Cherry-Evans.
He also has speed to burn, and that will come in handy with the pace of the game likely to create plenty of points and attacking opportunities out wide. Wingers aren’t often talked about in line with the new rules, but Coates is one who should make plenty of improvements from them in the Origin arena.
Fa’asuamaleaui, another youngster who has moved to the Gold Coast this year, has come right into his own. It was only two years ago he and Fifita were ripping New South Wales apart on the junior Origin stage, and they will be looking to do exactly the same here.
Excellent for the Maroons last year, it’s notable Fa’asuamaleaui is averaging about 50 post-contact metres per game this season, creating time and space for the spine to go to work, which will make the likes of Harry Grant and Cherry-Evans that much more dangerous.
Feldt is a player who should have had more bites of the Origin cherry over the years. A consistent winger with a great kick off and knack of finding the try line, his defence is sometimes questionable, but it’s superb to see him in the Queensland camp.
He may not be quite in the prime of his career anymore, but that won’t stop him from doing a job if called upon next Wednesday.
There are plenty of exciting youngsters in the game right now but, of those who are no longer rookies, Fifita may be the most exciting of the lot.
The difference he has made to the Gold Coast this year has been astronomical, and it is always clear to see when he is on the park against when he isn’t, because the Titans look a completely different team.
One of the scariest ball runners in the competition, Fifita is incredibly hard to stop, illustrated by nine tries, ten offloads and 24 tackle busts in just 11 games.
No Josh Papalii, no worries for Queensland will be the hopeful line. Fotuaika may not get talked about in the same breath as Papalii and some of the game’s other elite forwards, but he puts in consistently excellent performances for the Gold Coast week in and week out.
He also has the ability to play big minutes which, given the current state of injuries and suspensions, could prove valuable.
If there has ever been a player who turns it on at Origin level, it’s Dane Gagai. He is one of those players that seems to grow an extra metre and develop a sixth sense at representative level, and even if he was playing reserve grade, would still be picked.
In saying that, with seven tries and nearly as many assists this year, his club form has been on the improve, and Queensland will be hoping it only means more good things for them out wide. He could also line up on the wing, but with the talent they have out wide, centre is where Gagai will slot in.
Absolutely first picked for Queensland.
Grant might be returning from injury, but the spark he provided for Queensland last year made you think he will be a permanent fixture of this team for years to come.
While he is a very different player in many respects to his predecessor Cameron Smith, the way in which he runs the ball and puts opposition defences on the back foot is a scary proposition. Even more worrisome for the Blues is the thought of a fresh Grant potentially coming off the bench thanks to the inclusion of Reed Mahoney in the squad. An incredibly dangerous player who the Blues must stop at all costs.
Hess is a selection which some won’t agree with. Formerly playing on the edge, he has made a shift into the middle third for the Cowboys this year.
Formerly earmarked as one of the best up and coming players in the game, Hess has struggled for years to hit his potential, but has still done just enough to earn a place in the Queensland Origin squad.
While debate will rage on about what position Holmes should be playing at club level, there is no doubt that come Origin time, he will slot in on the wing and do the job he has done time and time again for both Queensland and Australia.
The Cowboys fullback has started to warm to the changed rules this season, and there is no surprise a reversal in form for the Cowboys has come on the back of it, such is the influence of Holmes.
You only have to remember his six-try performance in the green and gold during the 2019 Rugby League World Cup to know what he is capable of.
An Origin veteran at this point, Kaufusi will need to beat a tripping charge at the judiciary this week just to line up in Game 1.
He has nine Origin games to his name, and while Kaufusi has fallen away a little at the Storm, now outshone by co second rower Kenny Bromwich, he still does his job and then some in the well-drilled Melbourne machine, and has never let anyone down at this level.
Mahoney was always going to be selected in this Queensland squad, particularly with Harry Grant returning from injury. He is certainly within the top two hookers Queensland can call upon at the present time, and his form for Parramatta has only gone from strength to strength this year.
Mahoney is also widely rated as one of the best defensive hookers in the competition, and will look to prove that in the fast-paced spectacle that is Origin.
It’s going to be a race against time for Munster given his injury worries, but if he is fit, then he absolutely must play for Queensland.
His influence in the Maroon uniform has been enormous before, and will be again. His form in Melbourne has been out of this world, and while they have kept ticking along with him on the sideline, Munster’s ability to run the ball and cause havoc to opposition defensive outfits is second to none.
You’d almost go as far as to say that if Queensland are going to win, they need a fit Munster on the park.
Criminally underrated, Ofahengaue has fallen out of sight a little since his move to the Tigers. The chance of scenery has done the big prop the world of good though, with the Tigers prop doing plenty of hard yards.
Not only that, but his creativity and footwork has gone up a gear too, adding 24 tackle busts and 18 offloads in 12 games.
There are big questions around the fitness of Kalyn Ponga, and given he has only played five games this year, plus never returned from his latest injury before selection, his spot in the Queensland squad is a surprise.
While you can’t question the influence he brings to the side, with numbers comparing right up there to the best fullbacks in the game, the Knights have only won two of the five he has played this year.
He is still in Queensland’s best 17, but with other fullback options and questions surrounding Ponga, this is surprising and the Blues might be quietly happy.
Su’A is a consistent performer for South Sydney on the edge. He may not be the first name mentioned when it comes to Queensland second rowers, but he constantly turns in good performances for Wayne Bennett and has been strong for the Maroons previously.
Welch, having cracked 100 first grade appearances earlier this year, has turned himself into one of the competition’s premier front rowers. An efficient defender, it’s his ball running which makes all the difference for the Storm, and has done previously at Origin level for the Maroon.
With Josh Papalii out, he will need to take on even more responsibility this year.
For what it’s worth, here is the 17 I’m predicting Queensland will go with, provided Munster and Ponga are fit, and Kaufusi beats his tripping charge.
Interestingly, while Brimson could easily line up at fullback for Ponga, and Hess could play in the back row, there is no out and out replacement amongst the reserves for Munster, which is intriguing.
1. Kalyn Ponga (AJ Brimson)
2. Xavier Coates
3. Dane Gagai
4. Kurt Capewell
5. Valentine Holmes
6. Cameron Munster
7. Daly Cherry-Evans (c)
8. Christian Welch
9. Reed Mahoney
10. Moeaki Fotuaika
11. David Fifita
12. Felise Kaufusi
13. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
14. Harry Grant
15. Jai Arrow
16. Joe Offahengaue
17. Jaydn Su’A
18. AJ Brimson
19. Kyle Feldt
20. Coen Hess
Roarers, what do you make of the Queensland side?