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Opinion

State of Origin sets up key battles ahead of Kangaroos selection

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Expert
7th June, 2022
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This year the State of Origin series is setting up quite the conundrum for Australian Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga.

It was announced last week that Australian Rugby League Commission chair Peter V’Landys will take the role of Kangaroos chair of selectors, with State of Origin coaches Brad Fittler and Billy Slater to join him on the panel. This may have seemed like an unusual role for V’Landys to take on, but it’s set out in the ARLC constitution.

The current plan is for the selection panel to choose a 40-man provisional squad in the middle of the State of Origin series. With Fittler and Slater as part of that panel, that could make for some heated discussions about player selection.

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This squad will then be reduced closer to the RLWC at the end of the year.

The same rules that make a player eligible to play for the Maroons and Queensland also make a player eligible to represent Australia.

So I wonder whether there are several players waiting to see if they are selected into the 40-man provisional squad – and perhaps even if they make the final squad – before making a determination about which country they will represent in the RLWC. This could severely impact the preparation of other nations.

Given the timing of the squad selection, that likely means that State of Origin form will play a big role in who gets selected, and with plenty of spots up for debate at the moment, this series will no doubt be pivotal in determining who will represent the Kangaroos.

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Here are some key Blues and Maroons battles that will no doubt help the selectors choose who should be wearing green and gold.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Daly Cherry-Evans versus Nathan Cleary

This one will be my favourite to keep an eye on.

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The Kangaroos have not played a game in almost 1000 days, but the last time they did, Daly Cherry-Evans was at halfback. He was also mentioned by Meninga earlier this year as a player he was considering as the next captain of the Kangaroos following Boyd Cordner’s retirement.

But Nathan Cleary was also named as a potential option.

Based on current NRL form, it’s hard to see how Meninga and the selectors could pick Cherry-Evans over Cleary.

I also don’t think that the gap in form will change this State of Origin series.

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Cherry-Evans has had a fairly unremarkable Origin career. He plays with trepidation and in my view lacks leadership in the big moments.

But Meninga is often loyal, so I’m wondering whether form alone, whether in the NRL or State of Origin, will be enough for Meninga to change his mind about his current halfback.

Damien Cook versus Harry Grant

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With a choice between these two players, I certainly would not want to be an Australian selector.

Cook is the incumbent and Grant is the challenger. While Cook (and the Rabbitohs) have struggled with form this year, he does have the advantage as the incumbent.

But when it comes to Grant, I will never forget the Origin series that he had back in 2020. It felt like he arrived in the international arena that season, and if he can recapture some of that form in this year’s Origin, he would be very hard to leave out of a Kangaroos squad.

In this series Grant is named as coming off the bench with Ben Hunt starting in the hooker position. But the No. 14 jersey is another that I think will face some stiff competition, with Ryan Papenhuyzen, Ben Hunt and Nicho Hynes also potential contenders.

Other players to keep an eye on will be Junior Paulo, Payne Haas and Josh Papalii. Will these men play well enough to earn and green and gold jumper, and even if offered, will they take it? Or will they make the decision to represent another country in the Rugby League World Cup?

It’s clear that there’s much more than state pride on the line tonight. With the RLWC just a few months away, all these players will be vying to make sure they are there come October; whether it’s for Australia or another country remains to be seen.

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