Big shoes – replacing Thurston and Cronk
With Jonathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk both retired from representative football, Queensland will require a fresh halves pairing for the upcoming annual State of Origin series.
A number of players that showed glimpses of brilliance at the backend of the 2017 season have not been able to carry said form into the new year and so there will be plenty of selection contention heading into game one on June 6 at the MCG.
Michael Morgan is a terrific player with Origin experience under his belt. That being said, he has so far been unable to recapture the form that carried the Cowboys to the 2017 Grand Final from an astonishing 8th position.
There is only room for one running half in the Queensland team and with Cameron Munster breathing down his neck, it will be difficult to see where Morgan slots into the Maroon’s starting 13.
The Storm have hit a run of form in the last few weeks and it is clear that Munster has had a lot to do with that.
The Broncos’ Anthony Milford is another creative player with representative experience but he has also experienced a somewhat lack-lustre start to the season and will be unlikely to pose a considerable threat to Munster’s chances of wearing the Queensland number six jersey.
Ben Hunt has been instrumental in the Dragons’ successful start to the 2018 season. There is little doubt that his control and team management has allowed Gareth Widdop to play his natural game and hit his straps in St George’s 7-1 start.
Daly Cherry-Evans is often in the mix when it comes to Origin discussions but one would think that if he wasn’t picked last year when he was in career best form, he’ll have bugger all chance of being selected this year, especially with Manly’s ongoing issues.
Ash Taylor is another great young player that has been a shining light in recent seasons amid a Titans side that have failed to set the world on fire. He would be a great long-term prospect but probably isn’t quite ready for Origin football as yet.
The Likely Pairing
With all that said, I think it is somewhat inevitable that Cameron Munster and Ben Hunt will fill the six and seven jerseys, respectively. Michel Morgan can certainly still add value as a bench utility and Kalyn Ponga (predominantly a fullback with ball playing ability) would be a strong choice for 18th man, which would allow him to get used to the system until he eventually makes his Origin debut.
Hunt’s dominant ball playing ability will open up the left side of the field for Cameron Munster to work his magic and that, along with the Melbourne speedster’s combination with incumbents Billy Slater and Cameron Smith, will go a long way in helping the Maroons claim victory once again.