The Maroons have named three debutants in their team for the State of Origin series opener on Monday.
Coach Kevin Walters has settled on three rookies, all on the bench: Wests Tigers utility Moses Mbye, and Broncos forwards Joe Ofahengaue and David Fifita.
Daly Cherry-Evans has been named at halfback despite ankle injury concerns, meaning Michael Morgan plays in the centres. Kalyn Ponga will fill the fullback jersey of retired legend Billy Slater, while powerful prop Dylan Napa returns on the bench.
It’s a side that has several question marks hanging over it but in his press conference to unveil the team this morning Walters was in no mood to indulge the doubters, declaring “war” with NSW and bullishly backing his side to get the series off to a winning start.
“We are ready. This is war,” Walters said.
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“This Queensland team is going to be so prepared for this match, we’re playing at home, and we’re going to put on a performance that everyone can be proud of. The players, the fans, the sponsors … it’s on.
“It’s a game we expect to win. We’ve picked a great side. I’m really excited about the team we picked.
“We’ve got some really good young guys coming into the side. Kalyn Ponga, well, wow. What about him? In the last month since they moved him back to fullback, Cameron Munster, DCE, Ben Hunt, they’re great players and they will show everyone how good they are at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday week.”
While Origin rookies David Fifita, Joe Ofahengaue and Moses Mbye give Walters’ Queensland side a fresh-faced feel, arguably the bigger talking point is the selection of Cherry-Evans who has missed the last month of football after suffering a syndesmosis injury against the Raiders in Round 7.
Cherry-Evans was outstanding in the Maroons’ Game Three win in last year’s series and has been strongly tipped to succeed Greg Inglis as captain.
Walters is tipped to confirm Cherry-Evans as the skipper at a function in Brisbane tonight but before he can lead the team out, the halfback will need to get through at least a couple of full training sessions to build a combination with Ponga, Cameron Munster and Ben Hunt; the Maroons’ revamped spine.
Ponga has been in sparkling form since his return to fullback for Newcastle following a failed four round experiment at five-eighth, while Munster is starting to build a case to be considered the best player in the competition after a hugely impressive start to the 2019 season.
However, Hunt has had an inconsistent season at halfback for the Dragons, and Queensland’s decision to give him the No.9 jersey is perhaps the most contentious selection of all.
Asked about the call to put Hunt in the No.9 jersey, Walters was adamant critics would be forced to eat their words.
“Have you seen Ben Hunt play at hooker? He’s very good isn’t he? I’m pleased you agree with me,” he said.
“From what I’ve seen of Ben Hunt — we got a little glimpse last year in game three, you all did in this room — of what type of player Ben Hunt can be in the nine jumper.
“I watched that game five times and what I saw from Ben Hunt is the player we need him to be. He’s perfect for the No.9 jumper and I’m really excited to give Ben the opportunity to start the game at hooker.”
100% Origin – Episode 4
Queensland selector Darren Lockyer has recently admitted that there are concerns about Hunt’s ability to play the full 80 minutes in the middle of the field at Origin level.
Those concerns go some way to explaining the selection of Wests Tigers skipper Mbye, with the 25-year-old utility capable of pinch hitting from dummy half as well as covering fullback and the halves.
But even Mbye missed the Tigers’ Round 11 clash with injury, putting him alongside Cherry-Evans and Titans forward Jai Arrow as players who were picked under injury clouds.
Walters said he did not expect any of those three players to have a disrupted camp despite their injuries.
“It won’t affect us one little bit,” he said.
“I’m expecting all of those players to be training with the team early in the week.”
Queensland Origin team:
1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Corey Oates 3. Michael Morgan 4. Will Chambers 5. Dane Gagai 6. Cameron Munster 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Jai Arrow 9. Ben Hunt 10. Josh Papalii 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Matt Gillett 13. Josh McGuire Interchange: 14. Moses Mbye 15. Dylan Napa 16. Joe Ofahengaue 17. David Fifita