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State of Origin: What if Queensland’s team was selected by the POPE?

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Roar Guru
27th June, 2022
20

With an Origin decider at Lang Park coming up, POPE has kindly lent a hand to Billy Slater by appointing itself chair of Queensland’s selection committee for game three.

If you’re not familiar with the POPE player rating system, a brief primer can be found in the NRL team of the 2022 season so far.

As you can see, POPE’s not a bad selector. So what would Queensland’s team look like with POPE in charge?

Normal Origin eligibility criteria apply here along with the criterion used for the midseason POPE team: to be eligible for the starting team a player must have played an above-average number of minutes for their position. In other words, they have to be a regular starter. This criterion does not apply to bench players.

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There’ll be no position switches – no fullbacks playing centre or halves playing hooker. Each bench comprises two middle forwards, one edge backrower and the next best half or hooker.

Players known or strongly suspected to be unavailable through injury or suspension are excluded, and I’ve nominated a backup for each starting position.

This is very close to the team Queensland has selected so far and will likely go with in Game 3. POPE has identified that Billy Slater should make a change on the left wing and upgrade the front row rotation.

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1. Kalyn Ponga

There are really only two bona fide contenders for this position: Ponga and Reece Walsh. That said, Queensland do have a couple of very talented youngsters who could feature in the next few years in Xavier Savage and Jayden Campbell.

Backup: Reece Walsh.

Kalyn Ponga

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

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2. Selwyn Cobbo

Cobbo is the very model of a modern, metre-eating, tackle-busting winger. Only Greg Marzhew has busted more tackles and only Nick Meaney has bettered Cobbo’s 11.04 run metres per carry – and bear in mind that Meaney’s numbers are a little inflated by occasionally playing fullback.

Backup: Philip Sami.

3. Valentine Holmes

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Holmes is the only Queenslander among the top 20 NRL centres, and his successful conversion to centre at the Cowboys has made him an automatic selection. It’s been Queensland’s problem position for a while now, with the Maroons essentially forced to select Kurt Capewell out of position or rely on Will Chambers long after he became little more than a speed bump for Latrell Mitchell.

Backup: Tesi Niu.

4. Dane Gagai

Queensland really don’t have anybody better than Gagai. They’re a couple of injuries away from having to select somebody from the Queensland Cup or, even worse, Newcastle. Then again, Queensland’s border has always been rather flexible. It’s at Coolangatta one day, Kempsey the next. They’ll find somebody.

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Backup: Tom Opacic.

Dane Gagai and Selwyn Cobbo

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

5. Corey Oates

Queensland have preferred Xavier Coates and Murray Taulagi so far in 2022, but both are well behind Oates in POPE’s estimation. His work rate from the wing and overall run metres are very impressive. Oates and Daniel Tupou are almost identical players so far in 2022.

Backup: Murray Taulagi.

6. Cameron Munster

Munster is clearly the game’s best five-eighth and has an uncanny knack for breaching defensive lines, either dancing his way past befuddled forwards or creating space for others. He’ll have the weight of a state on his (possibly injured) shoulders in Game 3. He’ll play and probably drag Queensland over the line again.

Backup: Tom Dearden.

7. Daly Cherry-Evans

Some Queensland supporters have never been convinced by DCE and his performance in Game 2 attracted further criticism. But really, what are the other options here? Sam Walker’s not ready. Tom Dearden’s not really a primary half. Toby Sexton’s barely NRL standard. The only viable alternative is Ben Hunt. He’s a very similar player to Cherry-Evans until you get to the two key areas that will see the incumbent half and captain retained: kicking and edge defence.

Backup: Ben Hunt.

8. Josh Papalii

Big Papa played a total of 26 minutes in Game 2. Was he injured or ill? It was strange to use a player of his quality so little, especially once NSW had gained ascendancy in the middle of the field.

Backup: Francis Molo.

Queensland celebrate in Origin 1

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

9. Harry Grant

Using Grant off the bench makes sense in the Origin arena given the impact he can make running the ball against tired forwards. He is by far Queensland’s best hooker.

Backup: Reed Mahoney.

10. Moeaki Fotuaika

While Fotuaika’s not playing as well as he did last season, he’s still a better option than Lindsay Collins. According to POPE, he’s the seventh-best prop in the NRL and virtually identical to Junior Paulo in terms of his overall impact so far this season.

Backup: Keenan Palasia.

11. Felise Kaufusi

Kaufusi’s never been flash and has never needed to be. He competes on every play, makes very few mistakes compared to most edge backrowers and has a nasty streak ideally suited to Origin. Origin’s brutal and attritional; it’s about hanging in there until you can give Munster or Nathan Cleary half a chance to shine. That’s why you pick Kaufusi and not David Fifita.

Backup: Tom Gilbert

12. Jai Arrow

Arrow just keeps turning up and his defensive work rate is even more impressive than Kaufusi’s. He also busts a lot more tackles than Kaufusi and gives away fewer penalties. He’s Queensland’s Mr Efficiency.

Backup: Beau Fermor.

13. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui

Fa’asuamaleaui’s not a trendy ball-playing lock or quarterback – he’s more Jason Taumalolo than Isaah Yeo – but he’s just as effective in his own way, and Queensland don’t have anybody comparable to Yeo.

Backup: Joe Ofahengaue.

Bench: Thomas Flegler, Patrick Carrigan, Jaydn Su’a and Tom Dearden

In terms of raw impact, Su’a’s been the best second-rower in the NRL this season but has missed quite a few games through injury and wasn’t eligible for the starting team. Flegler seems to have about the right amount of crazy for Origin. Dearden edges Hunt for a bench spot based on his numbers, but I doubt Queensland would sacrifice the flexibility Hunt provides.

Coming up next is POPE’s New South Wales team for Game 3. Making seven changes clearly worked for Brad Fittler and the Blues in Game 2. POPE’s going to shake things up even more.

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