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Opinion

Injury-hit Maroons won’t panic over Origin selections but just sit back and laugh at Blues’ hullabaloo

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Expert
16th April, 2024
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Queensland are quietly facing a heavy injury toll as debate cranks up about Origin selections but they will happily deal with it in their own understated way while the Blues speculate over every option under the NSW sun.

Incoming coach Michael Maguire said on Tuesday that there were up to 50 players in the mix for selection in his opening squad. 

For the Maroons, the equation is much simpler – they picked 34 for their pre-season camp and many of their spots are all but settled. 

The spine picks itself with Daly Cherry-Evans and Cameron Munster to add to their 14 Origins together as the starting halves while Harry Grant and Ben Hunt will share their dummy-half double act as they’ve successfully done six times already.

And out the back, even though Billy Slater has diplomatically indicated Kalyn Ponga was a chance to get a start somewhere in the squad, Reece Walsh will be their fullback after he lit up Origin with his first two appearances last year before a self-inflicted suspension for abusing a referee ruled him out of the series finale.

“Reece and Kalyn are in control of where they are and where they are going with their careers and their performances. Their actions will determine the decision,” Slater said at an Origin media launch at the MCG to promote game two on June 26.

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“If you ask those guys, they would love nothing more than to be teammates and that’s a possibility as well.”

Munster and DCE trail only Darren Lockyer and Johnathan Thurston’s record of 18 Origins together in the halves, while they have equalled Thurston and Cooper Cronk’s tally and are one ahead of the legendary Wally Lewis-Allan Langer (13) duo.

Injuries have weakened the Maroons’ pack with first-choice middle forwards Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Tom Gilbert suffering season-ending injuries with Jai Arrow and Corey Horsburgh unlikely to return before the team is selected late next month for Origin I at Accor Stadium on June 5.

Gilbert, Horsburgh and Arrow played just one game apiece last year but the absence of Fa’asuamaleaui leaves a massive hole up front. 

Freed from the burden of having to carry his pack and pretty much his entire team at club level, the Titans spearhead ups his intensity in the Origin arena and has taken over from Josh Papali’i in recent years as Queensland’s alpha Blues beater.

Tino Fa’asuamaleaui of the Maroons scuffles with Payne Haas of the Blues during game two of the State of Origin series between the Queensland Maroons and the New South Wales Blues at Suncorp Stadium on June 21, 2023 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Queensland’s Tino Fa’asuamaleaui deep in conversation with New South Wales prop Payne Haas. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Dolphins speedster Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow’s hamstring tear means he will also be out of the selection mix unless he returns ahead of his Round 13 schedule. 

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Patrick Carrigan is likely to push up to prop for Fa’asuamaleaui with Lindsay Collins also starting in the engine room and Reuben Cotter packing down at lock as a potential 80-minute option. 

On the edges, Jeremiah Nanai is all but certain to get one spot while David Fifita, after an Origin renaissance last year, will probably get the other gig. 

A noted big-game performer, he will probably have Titans fans scratching their heads as to why he can’t play like that on a regular basis in club footy. 

The rest of the forward rotation is up for grabs. 

Slater and his selectors have the option of recalling some tried and true performers like Warriors veteran Kurt Capwell, Dolphins second-rower Felise Kaufusi and Storm prop Christian Welch or go with younger options like Titans duo Moeaki Fotuaika and Beau Fermor, Eels lock J’maine Hopgood and Cowboys rising star Heilum Luki, if he can make a strong comeback from an ankle injury when he returns in a fortnight.

“I’m not big on succession plans when it comes to representative football,” Slater said. “I think you earn the right to play in the jersey.”

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Fotuaikia has already made his Origin debut so Hopgood, Fermor and definitely Luki will need to show they have got the right stuff in the coming rounds to ensure they get the Slater nod of approval.

Tabuia-Fidow’s absence out wide opens the door for Selwyn Cobbo to come in off the wing to slot in at centre, as he has done successfully for the Broncos this season. 

If “The Hammer” can get back in time to prove his fitness, Cobbo could end up back on the wing with Murray Taulagi squeezed out of the backline.

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Knights veteran Dane Gagai and Gold Coast’s AJ Brimson were the only centre options in the pre-season squad but they have not had anywhere near the same impact as Cobbo in the opening six rounds.

Slater has brought Ezra Mam and Sam Walker into the extended squad this year to give them a glimpse of how the Maroons prepare for Origin although neither is unlikely to see any game time in 2024 with Tom Dearden the next cab off the rank if one of the established halves is unavailable.

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Unlike their opponents, former Maroons players will not sink the slipper into current selection candidates in the media to get cheap clicks, ratings or the perverse pleasure of putting the current generation in their place.

One thing that will put the Queenslanders slightly out of their comfort zone is the fact that they have been installed as slight favourites by the bookmakers. 

Possible Maroons team

1 Reece Walsh
2 Xavier Coates
3 Valentine Holmes
4 Selwyn Cobbo 
5 Murray Taulagi
6 Cameron Munster
7 Daly Cherry-Evans
8 Patrick Carrigan
9 Ben Hunt
10 Lindsay Collins
11 David Fifita
12 Jeremiah Nanai
13 Reuben Cotter
14 Harry Grant 
15 Heilum Luki
16 Tom Flegler
17 Moeaki Fotuaika
18 Tom Dearden

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