OPINION: The Maroons team to beat the Blues
IN A fortnight's time, Queensland will have awoken with perhaps a sore head but a smile after the mighty Maroons clinched the opening State of Origin clash.
After claiming the series 2-1 last year, Queensland have two games at Suncorp Stadium to do the business. It is Johnathan Thurston's final campaign and that will provide the motivation needed.
The Morning Bulletin sports journalist Matty Holdsworth has cast his eye over the team that will do the damage against the Blues.
Regular Maroons, Greg Inglis and Matt Scott will not be considered.
Name your team in the comments.
1. Fullback: Billy Slater - the kid returns to the Cauldron after two years on the sidelines. I believe the Storm superstar has done enough to warrant his Origin recall. He speed, sharpness and combination with Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk is second to none and the custodian will be more hungry than ever. I think he will break the shackles and will claim the Wally Lewis Medal.
2. Wing: Darius Boyd - the unlucky one of Slater's return. But Boyd will slot onto the flank with gusto and has a real chance to become Queensland's greatest ever try-scorer. He sits one four-pointer behind Inglis and is a cert to extend that number. As safe as houses and should disaster struck, will move back with ease.
3. Centre: Will Chambers - lost his place due to injury last year but the Stormer showed his worth making the grand final last year. Aside from not passing the ball at the death, he did well. Will fill in for GI with aplomb.
4. Centre: Dane Gagai - Newcastle's best player has five tries from four games in the origin area. He is fast, fleet of foot and has a good last pass close to the line. Is playing fullback for the Knights but will fit into the centres just fine. The Mackay product can now be considered an origin incumbent.
5. Wing: Valentine Holmes - Sorry Corey Oates fans but Holmes is a superstar. He won a premiership with the Sharks last year and his Australian debut not long after. He is tailormade for representative football and will shine. Speed to burn and acrobatic as they come.
6. Five-eighth: Johnathan Thurston - the Maroons legend is still subject to a fitness test but is expected to feature in tonight's match against Cronulla. Possesses game winning plays like no other and is the biggest competition the game has seen. Ahead of his last series, JT will go out with a win.
7. Halfback: Cooper Cronk - cool, calm, collected. If Steve Waugh is the ice-man, Cronk is his partner in crime. Along with Smith, he has the sharpest mind in the game, will steer the Maroons to another series win.
8. Prop: Josh Papalii - big bopping Papa. I have picked him out of position at prop but he plays in the middle almost as well. The Blues will pick a monster pack but Papa will take them on in tow. One player that can spark genuine fear into the opposition.
9. Hooker: Cameron Smith - First player picked. Best hooker the game has ever seen, enough said.
10. Prop: Dylan Napa - The flame haired firebrand 24-year-old is set for his Maroons call-up. He the modern day front row forward, big, imposing and hard runs.
11. Second Row: Sam Thaiday - Slammin Sam has experience and the combinations to make a fist. He is nearing the end of an illustrious career but is still producing the goods.
12. Second Row: Matt Gillett - The best back rower in the game and the first forward I picked. I don't recall a better edge defender in all the years I have watched, has plenty of tricks up his sleeve too.
13. Lock: Josh McGuire - Huge engine, high tempo, all guts forward. Should have played for Australia in the ANZAC Test but was overlooked. Expect 80 minutes of high quality from the Broncos man.
14. Bench: Michael Morgan - The current Mr Fix It. Tough, fast, elusive, will just shade Rockhampton's Cameron Munster for a utility spot. Has done the job before and will do it again.
15. Bench: Jacob Lillyman - For 13 games, Lillyman has come across the ditch, with never any expectation on him. He is as no-frills as they come. But he does the job, no matter what challenge in front. With no Matt Scott, he can be a pack leader.
16. Bench: Gavin Cooper - Was introduced to the Origin fray in game three last year and showed he belongs. He spent 51 minutes on field and scored a try, his combination with JT alone should force Kevin Walters' hand. He just shades Cowboys young gun Coen Hess.
17. Bench: Jarrod Wallace - The Maroons lack size and give-away plenty to the Blues pack. The Titans muscle man has been one of the signings of the season since his southerly move down the M1. Queensland need to keep one eye on generation next and Wallace is firmly in the sights. His time is now for me.
Honourable mentions who just missed out: Justin O'Neill, Cameron Munster, Coen Hess, Corey Oates, Anthony Milford, Nate Myles, Aidan Guerra and Felise Kaufusi.
For the enemy, this is the side who will strike the most fear into Queensland.
James Tedesco, Jarryd Hayne, Jack Bird, James Roberts, Josh Dugan, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, David Klemmer, Nathan Peats, Andrew Fifita, Boyd Cordner (c), Tyson Frizell, Josh Jackson. Tyrone PEachey, Trent Merrin, Wade Graham, Jake Trbojevic.