An entire spine of all-time greats – Slater, Thurston, Cronk, Smith – is gone. So too is Greg Inglis, Queensland’s all-time leading try-scorer, and NFL hopeful Valentine Holmes, who scored eight tries in five Origins.
Daly Cherry-Evans, if fit, is the new captain and key playmaker.
After an era of Origin glory that will never be matched, Queensland’s team this year will be barely recognisable. Yet one link to the halcyon days – Matt Scott – may well make a fairytale comeback.
There are still plenty of positions where the players pick themselves, but certainly not to the extent that we’ve seen in the recent past.
Wide World of Sports has carefully monitored Origin selection discussion in the build-up to this series and by our count, perhaps seven changes are looming for Game 1, compared to last year’s Origin III team. There are still two games before selection – plenty of things could change, with a raft of players in contention.
CHECK OUT OUR CURRENT QUEENSLAND ORIGIN TEAM AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE, AND OUR NSW SIDE HERE
Slater and Holmes are gone, of course. Andrew McCullough is out with a knee injury. Cowboys pair Gavin Cooper and Coen Hess must be in serious danger of losing their spots after indifferent starts to this season. Bench props Jarrod Wallace and Tim Glasby could make way for bigger names, or fresh blood.
Maroons coach Kevin Walters won’t be keen to make big changes after Queensland won Origin III handily last year. However, there are a lot of moving parts in the selection picture.
Cherry-Evans is still in doubt with an ankle injury and has been told by Walters that he’ll need to complete the full training camp to play. If he’s ruled out, Michael Morgan likely moves to halfback alongside Cameron Munster. If DCE is passed fit, Morgan may be handed another start in the centres, pushing Dane Gagai to the wing.
That would mean another near-miss for Cowboys grand final hero Kyle Feldt, a winger that Maroons legend Wally Lewis says is up to the task.
“I think he’s very much an underrated player, one of those guys that just doesn’t get the pat on the back that he should,” Lewis said on Wide World of Sports’ 100% Origin.
“He’s a lot more powerful a runner than people give him credit for.”
Ben Hunt looks safe for a spot somewhere, likely as a bench utility. There’s still a chance that he plays hooker in a partnership with Josh McGuire, though Cowboys No.9 Jake Granville is firming after Jake Friend and incumbent Andrew McCullough were ruled out. McGuire is in doubt with a calf injury.
Kalyn Ponga is a no-brainer at fullback, despite a disrupted start to the season with his five-eighth experiment at Newcastle. He is a freakish talent who could hold the Maroons No.1 jersey for a decade, as his predecessor Slater did.
The picture in the forwards is murky, though Walters will be pleased with the number of options. While the Cameron Smith comeback won’t be happening, Walters have also openly mused over the prospect of bringing veteran prop Scott back into the fold, at age 33 and with 22 Origins to his credit.
The talk began early and is only getting louder, with Queensland hero and current selector Darren Lockyer recently writing a column devoted to a potential Scott return. The Cowboys great hasn’t played Origin since 2016.
“At a time when the Maroons are crying out for experience … Scott’s leadership credentials are more valuable than ever,” Lockyer wrote in the Courier Mail.
“I can’t recall him ever playing a bad game in his beloved Maroons jumper.”
Scott could start and push Titans star Jai Arrow to lock, potentially, with McGuire sliding to the bench. Dylan Napa is back in the frame and may well claim a bench spot, having played well in a rebuilding Bulldogs team. He brings an impact that Wallace and Glasby do not.
A raft of young players including David Fifita, Joe Ofahengaue and Christian Welch are also in the mix for the bench, with Broncos powerhouse Fifita (19) the best prospect for a debut. If McGuire doesn’t win his fitness race, another of that trio could claim their first Maroons jersey.
Brisbane ace Matt Gillett was missing last season due to his neck injury and hasn’t had a great start to the season, but offers pure class; plus 18 games’ worth of experience in the back-row.
And the captaincy … if Cherry-Evans is absent, then who gets the nod?
NSW icon Andrew Johns has called for superstar five-eighth Cameron Munster to take the reins, with Lockyer saying that the Melbourne Storm No.6 would likely be the leader long-term.
“I’d pick Munster,” Johns said on 100% Origin last week. “You don’t have to say too much in Origin and he leads by his actions.
“And he’s playing in that No.6 jersey that The King (Lewis) made famous, Locky made famous. It’s such a big jersey and I just think he’s got that aura.
“Every challenge that’s put to him Munster, he rises, so I think he’d lift them.”
Lockyer replied: “Long-term I think he is the captain. I talked to Wally the other day, he captained Queensland before he captained his club team; but I think the scrutiny and the expectations around our leaders now at that level is completely different to what it was 20, 30 years ago.”
Former Maroons enforcer Gorden Tallis named Arrow as another left-field candidate, rating him as a long-term leader and likening him to Queensland legend Trevor Gillmeister.
Here is our Queensland Origin I team, as things stand right now; assuming that Cherry-Evans and McGuire meet their fitness deadlines. It would feature seven changes from last year’s Origin III side, but just two debutants: Granville and Fifita.
Now we wait to see who might play themselves into, or out of, the Maroons line-up that will be named in less than two weeks.