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State of Origin likely game one teams

Injuries are causing headaches for each team but State of Origin teams are starting to take shape for the series opener on June 8 at Accor Stadium.

Time is running out for prospective candidates to push their case with teams to be announced at the end of this week’s Round 12. The Blues are likely to name their team on Sunday night with the Maroons waiting until Monday morning.

Blues coach Brad Fittler needs to find a new centre pairing while Queensland rookie mentor Billy Slater said he has been impressed with young guns Selwyn Cobbo and Jeremiah Nanai as he looks to build his first squad.

Nanai and Cobbo are both 19 but Slater said “age is just a number” and he would have no hesitation in picking them irrespective of their age. Titans forward David Fifita is trying to make an early return from a knee injury for the Titans on Friday to bolt back into the Origin frame.

Tom Trbojevic has joined Latrell Mitchell on the sidelines, meaning Brad Fittler will be choosing an all-new centre combination for game one. Trbojevic is set to miss three months on the sideline after dislocating his shoulder while Mitchell’s hamstring tear will keep him out until midway through June at the earliest.

Penrith’s Stephen Crichton and Brisbane speedster Kotoni Staggs are the frontrunners while Canberra five-eighth Jack Wighton is also an option having filled in at centre at Origin level.

“Well, there’s a week to go. They’re both in good form and the thing is it’s a very important position. If you think of some of the Queensland centres, Dane Gagai, Val Holmes, between them they’ve played 29 Origins so we need to make sure whoever we pick there, there’s a good chance whoever we do pick there might be on debut, as well so it’s a big job ahead of them whoever plays centre,” he said on Channel 9 on Sunday.

Roosters lock Victor Radley (ankle) has been ruled out for two months in a hammer blow to his State of Origin debut hopes. Sharks forward Dale Finucane’s chances are under a heavy cloud after he was sidelined with a knee injury.

He is not expected to play again before the squad is named.

However, Cameron Murray (shoulder) was set to be out of the running, but the Rabbitohs star could be making an early return this weekend against the Wests Tigers to bolster the Blues’ pack.

Keaon Koloamatangi has been a part of our camps and we’ve also got Tariq Sims, Tyson Frizell, Angus Crichton and Liam Martin who have played prior,” Fittler said recently when asked about his forward options to support certain starters Payne Haas, Isaah Yeo, Jake Trbojevic and Junior Paulo.

Ryan Papenhuyzen (knee and hamstring) is also no chance of assuming the bench utility role, leaving the spot open for Wighton or Sharks halfback Nicho Hynes.

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For the Maroons, Jaydn Su’A (ankle) is out but fellow second-rower David Fifita (knee) is a chance of lining up for game one if he can make an early return on Friday against Brisbane.

Cobbo is a chance to come onto the wing if Queensland use Valentine Holmes in the centres alongside Dane Gagai while Nanai could be used in the second row or on the bench.

“Not just the highlights that Cobbo and Nanai have been producing it’s the effort actions and defensive actions, bringing the ball out of trouble, doing the things that the team sees but not necessarily we focus on, on TV. They’ve been doing that, which is really good,” Slater said on Sunday Kick Off.

“Age is just a number to me if they’re doing those actions well.”

Storm star Xavier Coates is likely to be on one wing for Queensland while Cowboys speedster Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow is also in the mix for a spot out wide.

Assistant coach Cameron Smith has also indicated Kalyn Ponga is still the frontrunner for fullback despite Warriors young gun Reece Walsh‘s impressive form.

Each state will select a squad of 22 players with NSW looking to claim the shield for the fourth time in five years, a feat they have only managed once before during their best era from 1992-96 which was only interrupted by Paul Vautin’s miracle clean-sweep team of ‘95.

The Maroons have brought in Slater at the helm after Paul Green’s sole year in charge resulted in 50-6 and 26-0 thrashings in the first two games before saving face with a 20-18 game-three win in the only series to be played all on Queensland soil.

Slater has also mentioned he is looking at the likes of Brisbane’s Patrick Carrigan, Tom Flegler and Keenan Palasia, Cowboys young gun Heilum Luki and Titans second-rower Beau Fermor as options to boost his pack.

Here’s how selections for each team are tracking leading into Origin I but of course, plenty can happen between now and game day.

James Tedesco wins Origin

James Tedesco raises the State of Origin shield. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

NSW

Outside backs: James Tedesco will lead the Blues as long as he’s available with Josh Addo-Carr and Brian To’o to return on the wings with the centre berths up for grabs due to Mitchell’s hamstring surgery and Trbojevic’s shoulder problem. Stephen Crichton and Kotoni Staggs are the frontrunners with Jack Wighton the next likely option. Siosifa Talakai, Campbell Graham and Matt Burton are also options but unlikely.

Halves: Barring injuries or suspension, Penrith duo Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai will be selected. Cody Walker and Mitch Moses are the two players who would come in if needed.

Pack: Junior Paulo and Payne Haas are in form and almost certain to be the starting props with Damien Cook at hooker for his 13th Origin in a row since his 2018 debut. Murray and Sims were the second-rowers last year and Fittler is keen to see Sims in his team again. Murray making an early return from a shoulder problem could be a massive boost for the Blues. On form, Martin should be the first edge forward picked ahead of Frizell, Crichton, Sims and Koloamatangi. Panthers co-captain Isaah Yeo will be the lock.

Bench: Fittler is a big fan of Jake Trbojevic, who played 13 straight Origins before a hip injury ruled him out of the last two games of 2021, and he can cover prop or lock. Veterans like Frizell and Crichton, who can switch between the middle and edge, are also likely to get the nod while Cronulla’s Dale Finucane is not yet out of the picture but will need to prove his fitness due to a knee problem. Knights prop Daniel Saifiti’s form has been down this season and he is struggling to retain his spot.

Angus Crichton

Angus Crichton of the Blues and teammates celebrate. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The utility berth was likely to go to Papenhuyzen but his absence opens the door for Burton, Raiders star Jack Wighton or Sharks halfback Nicho Hynes. 

Fittler will also bring some other uncapped Emerging Blues into the extended squad with Manly forward Haumole Olakau’atu and Wests Tigers prop Stefano Utoikamanu. Roosters lock Victor Radley’s hopes have been crushed after he suffered an ankle injury in Magic Round.

Likely Blues team

  1. James Tedesco (c)
  2. Josh Addo-Carr
  3. Stephen Crichton
  4. Kotoni Staggs
  5. Brian To’o
  6. Jarome Luai
  7. Nathan Cleary
  8. Junior Paulo
  9. Damien Cook
  10. Payne Haas
  11. Liam Martin
  12. Cameron Murray
  13. Isaah Yeo
    Interchange
  14. Jack Wighton
  15. Jake Trbojevic
  16. Tariq Sims
  17. Tyson Frizell
    Reserves: Nicho Hynes, Matt Burton, Keaon Koloamatangi, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Haumole Olakau’atu, Stefano Utoikamanu, Angus Crichton.
Queensland Maroons celebrate Origin win

 (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Queensland

Outside backs: Kalyn Ponga has built up enough credits at Origin level to retain the No.1 jersey despite modest club form. On the wings, Xavier Coates and Selwyn Cobbo are likely starters while Dane Gagai will be one centre and Cowboys speedster Valentine Holmes his likely partner. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow is working his way back to match fitness so will probably miss out. Warriors young gun Reece Walsh and North Queensland winger Murray Taulagi are unlikely to make the starting side but should also get a call-up to the extended squad.

Halves: The established combination of Cameron Munster and captain Daly Cherry-Evans will call the shots with Dragons veteran Ben Hunt capable of filling in either role if there’s an injury.

Pack: Josh Papalii will be one of the front-rowers but Christian Welch’s season-ending Achilles tear leaves a vacancy. Jai Arrow has been used at prop at Origin level and could be an option with Tino Fa’asuamaleaui packing down at lock or vice versa. Kaufusi has been a fixture in the second row in 12 consecutive matches since his rookie Origin series four years ago and if Fifita is fit, he will be alongside him. Kurt Capewell is another edge forward option who could be used off the bench or as a starter with Fifita on the interchange. Harry Grant will be the hooker.

Maroons celebrate a try by Harry Grant during game three of the State of Origin series

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Bench: Hunt is guaranteed to get the utility spot, leaving three forward roles on the bench. Moeaki Fotuaika has done well in four Origins, but Carrigan seems to be in front in the pecking order.

Along with Walsh, Taulagi and Cobbo, Gold Coast’s AJ Brimson, Cowboys trio Reuben Cotter, Coen Hess and Kyle Feldt, and Eels hooker Reed Mahoney will also be in contention for the extended squad.

Likely Maroons team

1. Kalyn Ponga
2. Valentine Holmes
3. Dane Gagai
4. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow
5. Xavier Coates
6. Cameron Munster
7. Daly Cherry-Evans (c)
8. Josh Papalii
9. Harry Grant
10. Jai Arrow
11. Felise Kaufusi
12. Kurt Capewell
13. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
Interchange
14. Ben Hunt
15. Patrick Carrigan
16. David Fifita
17. Jeremiah Nanai
Reserves: Reece Walsh, Selwyn Cobbo, AJ Brimson, Reed Mahoney, Moeaki Fotuaika, Reuben Cotter, Francis Molo.  



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