Origin never disappoints as it delivers a high standard of skill, a huge level of emotion and has provided a huge dose of controversy after Game 3.
We have witnessed a rare “changing of the guard” within QLD’s ranks and ushered in the next generation of Blues champions with a record 13 debutants coming in during the series.
Pushing the drama to one side for a moment – the QLD fans farewelled two of their Champions Cameron Smith and Billy Slater in brilliant fashion at Suncorp Stadium.
Kevin Walters got it 100% right by selecting Daly Chery-Evans at halfback and Ben Hunt at dummy half (off the bench) to make sure QLD sent Slater out in a winning football team as he received man of the match honours in his farewell game.
The debate about him receiving the Wally Lewis medal for man of the series – after playing in only two games – will continue south of the border for some time.
But one thing you can’t deny is that Billy Slater was the most influential player in both games he played and he has left the representative arena at the peak of his powers – which is the greatest compliment I can give him as he says good bye to the game’s most elite levels of competition.
His legacy will live on for a long time and he has farewelled the No 1 jumpers for QLD and the Kangaroos (in the World Cup) as the best player in his position (possibly the best of all time) at the remarkable age of 35.
This year’s Origin series has provided a genuine audition for Test jumpers and the Blues will have a stronger representation in a new look team that is due to play the Kiwis in NZ in October and possibly Tonga a week later.
In particular, the Kangaroos will be looking for candidates to fill the important spine positions of fullback, half back, five eighth and hooker – with the retirements of Slater, Smith, Cooper Cronk and Jonathon Thurston.
Incumbent Test five-eighth Michael Morgan, who is suffered a major bicep injury, may also be overlooked if he can’t prove his fitness before the end of the year.
Looking at the performances of the NSW and QLD spines over the three games – it would be hard to overlook James Tedesco who was outstanding at fullback in-light of the retirements of Slater and Darius Boyd in the last few months.
Damian Cook would appear to have the edge over Andrew McCullough (or possibly Hunt) and James Maloney is in the box seat to the be the next Test half back after his valuable contribution in games 1 and 2 as he took control of the Blues attack, including a smart kicking game.
Cameron Munster is the best candidate at five-eighth, who showed a strong running game, and combined well with Daly Cherry Evans to create a number of threats in attack.
There is some water to flow under the bridge between now and October but if I had to pick a team it would look like this:
1 James Tedesco
2 Tom Trbojevic
3 Greg Inglis VC
4 Latrell Mitchell
5 Valentine Holmes
6 Cameron Munster
7 James Maloney
8 Regan Campbell Gillard
9 Damian Cook
10 David Klemmer
11 Boyd Cordner C
12 Tyson Frizelle
13 Jake Trbojevic
14 Ben Hunt
15 Jack de Belin
16 Paul Vaughan
17 Josh McGuire
One player who hasn’t been sighted off Nobby’s since Rd 7 is the Knight’s most valuable recruit Mitchell Pearce as he makes his long-awaited comeback tonight against the Eels.
It has been a very lean period since he left the scene - as he now attempts to regain his own confidence and form quickly after such a long lay-off.
His influence on the team will be critical to them regaining their confidence again – especially after they started the season so brightly.
Ironically, the Knights play the Eels for the 2nd time in six weeks and they will need a repeat of one of their better defensive performances to get their only their 3rd win at home for the season.
The danger is relying too heavily on one player to get the job done and he will need the support of his teammates (and the fans) to get the team back on track.
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