Monday 23 May 2022

Predicted QLD Maroons Game 1 Team - 2022 State of Origin Series

Published May 23, 2022 
A week or so ago we put together the NSW team we thought Brad Fittler would select for the opening game of the 2022 State of Origin Series, and although injury has already cut holes in that lineup within ten days, now it is time to take a stab at the QLD team Billy Slater will pick.
The new series kicks off on June 8 in Sydney, and both Game 1 squads will be selected next week.
To emphasise - this is the QLD team NOT The Footy Show host Warrick Nicolson thinks Billy Slater will take into camp, not the side he would pick.
Kalyn Ponga 
He will get first crack ahead of Reece Walsh. How he meshes with DCE, Munster and Grant could dictate QLD's chances in this series - if he fires NSW are going to have all sorts of trouble containing this quartet. Walsh will have to wait for an opportunity, whilst Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow's injury means he probably misses out on a spot in the 17 altogether.

Corey Oates and Selwyn Cobbo.
Harsh call on Murray Taulagi but the Brisbane wingers have been superb of late and Slater played with Oates so that will get him across the line. This means there's no room for Xavier Coates in the 17, but he may keep Taulagi out of the extended bench as the Storm have a bye in Round 13 whereas the Cowboys will play (albeit on Thursday night). Cobbo has made his case emphatically and although Origin is a massive step up from club footy - Slater is unlikely to leave him out for Coates or Taulagi. Tabuai-Fidow would be another backup option, whereas Kyle Feldt's injury means his chances of a recall have been completely dashed.

Dane Gagai and Valentine Holmes.
Gagai will be there if fit, and Holmes has made his switch to centre a real winner at club level. Their only threat is Tabuai-Fidow and it's hard to see that happening given Hamiso's lack of minutes in the position this season. Philip Sami would be the fallback if QLD decided against drafting Kurt Capewell into to the centres again, or they could try Cobbo there in a pinch.

Cameron Munster.
No question marks here - it's Cam's job to win this series for QLD - make no mistake, the pressure is firmly on his shoulders this series after going missing in 2021. AJ Brimson is playing club footy at five-eighth but his only hope of a run is probably at fullback if a few other players get hurt there. QLD will play Ben Hunt here if Munster got hurt, or perhaps blood Tom Dearden.

Daly Cherry-Evans (c).
DCE is not getting any younger - he's 33 believe it or not - but he's QLD's second most important player after Munster in this series. Like Munster found the going much tougher v NSW in 2021 v 2020 and although his club form has been pretty good, he only has Hunt nipping at his heels really for the gig. Again, if QLD go bold then Dearden could get a chance but the only scenario where that happens is if NSW are up 2-0 and DCE is hurt.

Josh Papalii and Patrick Carrigan.
The QLD veteran is back in form at Canberra and will be one prop - and the cornerstone of the pack. Carrigan will likely get the starting gig a prop with Tino Fa'asuamaleaui at lock. Papalii may only be used in two bursts, but Carrigan will play big minutes for Slater. Mo Fotuaika is going ok without setting the world alight for the Titans but should get one of the bench prop spots, but there isn't a standout candidate for the other one. Lindsay Collins is probably the favourite now he's available, whilst Reuben Cotter and Thomas Gilbert are the bolters. If Slater plays it a bit safer then Thomas Flegler looms as a likely last replacement, with incumbent Francis Molo (who it is hard to see being picked this year) and Joe Ofahengaue other options. That said, if QLD decide to pick David Fifita underdone, then Jai Arrow immediately becomes the fourth middle on the bench next to Fotuaika and ahead of the rest. 

Harry Grant.
Wasn't at his best in the series opener last year and missed the rest of the series. Will get the job here and the keys to play 80 minutes if he is up to it. His battle with Damien Cook is eagerly anticipated. Reed Mahoney is well and truly good enough for Origin level but he won't get a look in for Game 1. Hunt will be the bench utility - again ahead of Mahoney, but should Grant miss a game through injury/suspension then Mahoney will come in.

Second Rowers
Felise Kaufusi and Kurt Capewell
This looks like the combo even if Fifita is available for selection. Kaufusi is a classic Craig Bellamy foot soldier and Slater won't hesitate to bring that into his squad despite Kaufusi's indifferent Origin form the last two years. That leaves only one spot for Arrow and Capewell to fight over, with the loser taking a spot on the bench - Arrow's middle flexibility may count against him. And that's where the challenge for Slater will come regarding Fifita - would he carry only one genuine middle on the bench if he starts with Arrow, puts Capewell in the reserves with Hunt and then picks Fifita next to Fotuaika? Fifita doesn't deserve to be in the side based on form in 2022 but he is a game changer... right now I think he misses out with rookie backrower Jeremiah Nanai preferred on the bench. To be honest Nanai playing Origin looks like a massive elevation for him based on really good club form, but the Origin hype machine is a powerful thing when you score a few tries (even off kicks). Gut says QLD take a flier on Nanai over an available Fifita. Backup options include Gilbert, Beau Fermor and a young forward I have a massive wrap on in Trent Loireo.

Tino Fa'asuamaleaui.
The Gold Coast lock will start at lock you'd think, although balance and use wise I feel like he should be at prop and Carrigan at lock. One thing is for sure - the longer he stays on the bench the better it is for NSW. Arrow and Capewell could play here easily also, whilst Cotter and Ofahengaue look like the next best options beyond them. Kobe Hetherington isn't in the conversation yet but don't rule him out later in the series, especially if Cotter doesn't find Origin as easy being a smaller middle as club footy.

Ben Hunt, Jeremiah Nanai, Jai Arrow, Moeaki Fotuaika. 
(Extras: AJ Brimson, Murray Taulagi, Reuben Cotter and Thomas Flegler/Lindsay Collins)
Hunt is a sure thing, as is Arrow (or Capewell). Fotuaika is the best of the middle options so I expect him to be there. If you pick Nanai you then face the challenge of getting him into the game so I'm not convinced he's here ahead of a Cotter or Collins in the end as the camp experience would be a big thing for him, but again - Origin hype machine. Brimson does offer good flexibility as a camp attendee, and Tabuai-Fidow therefor should be ahead of Taulagi on the same premise but I think Slater rewards Taulagi for his great 2022 so far. Cotter and one of either Flegler or Collins round out the 21 man camp squad with Molo missing out altogether.
Next in line: Tabuai-Fidow, Coates, Mahoney, Loiero (really think he's a smokey for a camp spot), Ofahengaue, Dearden and Gilbert.
So the Game 1 lineup I think Billy Slater will pick is:
  1. Kalyn PONGA
  2. Corey OATES
  3. Valentine HOLMES
  4. Dane GAGAI
  5. Selwyn COBBO
  6. Cameron MUNSTER
  7. Daly CHERRY-EVANS (c)
  8. Josh PAPALII
  9. Harry GRANT
  10. Patrick CARRIGAN
  11. Felise KAUFUSI
  12. Kurt CAPEWELL
  14. Ben HUNT
  15. Jai ARROW
  16. Moeaki FOTUAIKA
  17. Jeremiah NANAI
  18. Reuben COTTER
  19. Murray TAULAGI
  21. Thomas FLEGLER or Lindsay COLLINS
With no Tom Trbojevic or Latrell Mitchell - are QLD now favourites?

NOT The Footy Show will record a Podcast getting Robb Cox's picks for both sides in the next week or so... maybe. 
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