Game One Team Guide: Queensland
The Maroons have gone with largely the same squad that relinquished the shield last year, with just the two new faces appearing on the interchange bench. While questions may abound regarding the age and competitive desire of Mal Meninga’s squad, there can be no doubt about its credentials; this will be one of the most accomplished groups of footballers to ever take the field together.
Here’s our take on each member of the Queensland squad:
1. Billy Slater: Experience, class and the crucial ability to create something from nothing, Slater is everything you want out of fullback at this level. Having missed the trans-Tasman test through a shoulder injury, he is reportedly in some doubt due to a flare-up earlier this week, so he will be desperate to prove his fitness and show he’s not spent force in the representative arena.
2. Darius Boyd: Boyd’s presence in this game after tearing his Achilles in the pre-season is nothing short of miraculous. He’s been solid upon his return to the Broncos line-up without setting he world on fire, but as Origin’s all-time leading try-scorer he deserves some leeway there. He’ll enjoy facing off against Will Hopoate down Queensland’s left flank.
3. Greg Inglis: For perhaps the first time in his career, Inglis is struggling a little bit for form, with an uncharacteristically poor performance in the ANZAC test and some quiet showings with the stuttering Rabbitohs placing him under some pressure. Fortunately for the Maroons, an out-of-sort Inglis is still amongst the top few players in the game, and the big occasion may be just what he needs to kick-start his season.
4. Justin Hodges: Yet another Maroon to struggle with injuries this year, Hodges comes into this series knowing it will be his last. He’ll be hoping to see a lot more of the ball this time out after Queensland showed an over-reliance on the left edge in attack last year, and as the smartest outside back in the game his bag of tricks could prove the difference if the game becomes a defensive slugfest.
5. Will Chambers: Chambers has proven he belongs at this level after a great Origin debut in Game Three last year, and was one of Australia’s best in the recent defeat to the Kiwis. He is arguably the NRL’s best outside back at the moment, and his club combination with halfback Cooper Cronk should ensure the right flank is better utilised in attack in this series.
6. Johnathan Thurston: After a slow start to the year, Thurston has been on fire over the last couple of months, leading the Cowboys from equal last after Round 3 to equal first going into the rep period. Provided his forwards can keep Blues hitman Beau Scott out of his face he should have a big say in the outcome of the series.
7. Cooper Cronk: Cronk is having a relatively quiet year by his standards, with rumours that he’s being managed through a mystery injury refusing to die. With that said, his steady hand is a big reason why Melbourne sits among the leaders at club level, and his influence in the Origin arena was made all too clear when he went down with a broken arm last year.
8. Matthew Scott: At this time last year Scott was the unquestioned no.1 prop in the game, however his performances so far in 2015 have been slightly lacking, with many critics suggesting the likes of Woods and Fifita have surpassed him. If Queensland is to be any hope of matching the Blues in the yardage game, they’ll need Scott at his absolute best.
9. Cameron Smith: Queensland were spared some major drama with Smith escaping suspension for a stray boot to Issac Luke’s head, and nobody will be more eager to avenge last year’s series defeat than the skipper. Despite a new generation of quality no.9s emerging, Smith continues to stand alone as the game’s premier hooker, and as long as he’s on the park the Maroons can never be counted out.
10. Nate Myles: Myles is another Maroon who has been well below his best this season, struggling to make an impact at club level with the Titans and being a non-factor in the ANZAC test. The selections of McGuire on the bench and Napa as 18th man suggest he is under very real pressure to keep his place in the team, so watch for him to lift a gear for this one.
11. Aidan Guerra: Despite missing time recently due to a fractured cheekbone, Guerra retains his Origin spot after a cracking debut series in 2014. Very solid in defence, Guerra’s real strength is with the ball in hand, where the Maroons will be hoping he can further develop his combination with Greg Inglis on the left. He is particularly dangerous close to the line.
12. Sam Thaiday: Benched by Wayne Bennett after an inauspicious start to the season, Thaiday has responded with some of his best football in years recently, playing a big part in the Broncos’ surge to the top of the NRL ladder. With all the talk of Beau Scott targeting Johnathan Thurston, the Blues would do well to remember Thaiday is perfectly capable of doing some serious damage himself – just ask Rooster James Maloney.
13. Corey Parker: Despite having just turned 33, Parker is in the form of his life and a case could be made for him as the best forward in the game at the moment. While he’s always been a stats monster, his running game is doing some real damage at club level and his knack for an offload gives any side he plays for a huge edge in terms of second-phase play.
14. Michael Morgan: With Daly Cherry-Evans ruled out through injury, Morgan is expected to join Josh McGuire in earning a debut Origin jersey, and on recent form he has every right to be there. As impressive as he was at fullback last season, he’s arguably performing even better in the halves at the moment, and his combination with Johnathan Thurston could prove a real factor in the final 20 minutes.
15. Josh McGuire: McGuire finally gets his shot, having been on the cusp of selection for a few years now. An aggressive, relentless prop who relishes a contest, McGuire possess the ideal mentality for Origin, and despite being considered small by front rower standards, he is more than capable of holding his own against the mammoth Blues pack.
16. Matt Gillett: One of the game’s most gifted young forwards, Gillett hasn’t quite lived up to expectations this year, starting the season carrying an injury and spending more time on the interchange bench than a player of his calibre should. Still, he is a vital part of Queensland’s future plans and is versatile enough to cover a number of positions if the Maroons suffer any injuries during the game.
17. Jacob Lillyman: Lillyman might be the most anonymous member of the Maroons squad, but he is by no means a weak link. Another smallish front rower, he’s not a workhorse like McGuire but is the sort of player who’ll take the tough hit-up when his teammates are exhausted and his fearlessness in defence will be crucial against someone like Andrew Fifita in full flight.
18th Man – Dylan Napa: Napa remains in the running for a late call-up, possibly at Morgan’s expense, due to concerns over the Blues’ size advantage but in all likelihood will have to bide his time a little while longer. Napa boasts the size Queensland covets in the forwards but with just 41 NRL caps to his name, he might be considered a bit raw at this stage.
Nick Fray, Origin Online