Wests Tigers v Sea Eagles preview
3 hours ago | Tim Costello
With just a week out until Coach Kevin Walters picks his team, Rick takes a look at how they're shaping up.
1. BILLY SLATER - Looks set to regain his prized number one jersey after a successful return from back to back major shoulder surgeries in the past two years. Showed his class returning from injury back in round three and has gotten better every week since. Still possessing great pace and covers more turf than any fullback in the game's history. Apart from his own form, the brilliant combinations he's formed with club mates Cronk and Smith over the years are quickly clicking into top gear.
2. DARIUS BOYD - Stamped himself as the best fullback in the game in the absence of Slater last year and is extremely unlucky to be shifting back to the wing. His strike rate on the Maroons flanks is 16 tries from 23 games making him one of the Maroons all-time great try-scorers. Coach Walters will also have the option of Boyd switching with Slater in attack at times to take advantage of his great ball-playing on the edges.
3. WILL CHAMBERS - Looks the obvious replacement for superstar Greg Inglis at left centre after a strong return in the same position for the Kangaroos recently. Missed last year's series through injury but featured strongly for the Maroons in the four games prior. Has good footwork, strong defence and sets up his wingers as good as any centre going round.
4. DANE GAGAI - One of Queensland's unsung heroes playing on the right flank in all three games of last year's series. His work coming out of trouble was vital and his finishing ability an asset. With 41 tackle busts for the year, he's been a standout for the struggling Knights this season and should be preferred over incumbent centre Justin O'Neill to get his first start at Origin level in his natural position.
5. VALENTINE HOLMES - Usurps an unlucky Corey Oates on the wing on the back of a premiership last year and five Test caps to his names for Australia. His fearless power-running game will bring plenty of punch coming out of trouble and can finish with the best of them. Scorches across the turf as quick as anyone and has the rare ability to change direction without losing any pace.
6. JOHNATHAN THURSTON - Racing the clock to recover from a shoulder injury picked up playing for the Kangaroos a little over a week ago, but will be given every chance to prove his fitness. Never before has there been a more competitive player in the game and he'll be desperate to extend his record run of 36 straight Origin matches. Expect him to be picked with Coach Walters carrying an 18th man into camp as cover.
7. COOPER CRONK - A no-brainer for the Maroons number seven with Cronk set to add to his 19 high-quality performances. There's every chance that along with Thurston, it could be Cronk's last Origin series giving his state even more motivation.
8. NATE MYLES - 31 Origin games of pure grit and toughness. Myles has been far from a man in good form since moving to Manly last year, but Coach Walters showed faith in him then and he will now. To be fair, he has shown signs of picking his moments to make an impact in recent weeks laying on some solid shots in defence. Will grow another leg upon pulling on his beloved Maroon and provides the experience needed in the absence of Matt Scott up front.
9. CAMERON SMITH © - The skipper with 39 Origins to his name is like a fine wine, he just keeps getting better with age. No man before him has read and controlled the play in the Origin arena the way he does. Pretty sure they will plant a bronzed statue outside Suncorp Stadium of him one day.
10. DYLAN NAPA - Would have debuted last year if not for being one of the men banned for breaking curfew in a pre-season camp. The big fiery red-head has been earmarked as a star for the Origin arena for a number of years now and looks destined to finally get his chance this year. Runs with plenty of vigour and can hit with some of the great Queensland forwards of yesteryear. Sure to bring plenty of fire and brimstone to the Origin furnace.
11. JOSH PAPALII - Was in outstanding form to start the season for the Raiders before hitting a speed bump in the form of a drink driving charge that resulted him being stripped of a Kangaroos jersey and a one match ban from club football. Returns to the field this weekend with everything to play for. Looked set for a run-on debut for the Maroons, but probably needs a big game to cement that roll now. Was a rock for Coach Walters coming off the bench last year ensuring he'll be in the squad somewhere.
12. MATT GILLETT - Stamped himself as the Maroons right edge backrower for years to come throughout last year's series. Runs hard, tackles hard, runs good lines in attack and is up there with the best one on one defenders in the game. You couldn't notice the difference between his best and worst game if you tried.
13. JOSH McGUIRE - Assumed the lock forward role off Corey Parker at the Broncos this year and looks a red-hot favourite to do so for the Maroons. Has churned out tireless performances week in week out this year playing big minutes, averaging 144 metres and 33 tackles per game. Has a real knack for finishing his runs on the front foot and invariably gets a quick play the ball to follow.
14. MICHAEL MORGAN - Has stamped himself as the utility of choice for both Queensland and Australia over the last couple of years. His ability to cover the entire backline, hooker and more often than not a floating/extra forward type roll makes him the obvious choice again. His big frame means the Maroons lose nothing in defence either.
15. COEN HESS - The real bolter for the Maroons with the towering Cowboys back-rower sitting equal with a host of outside backs atop the try-scorers tally this year with eight meat pies to his name. Young, raw and relatively inexperienced for someone entering this level, but the damage he can do running the ball close to the line and anywhere on the park for that matter make him almost irresistible for Coach Walters to take a punt on.
16. SAM THAIDAY - The 28 Origin veteran is set to play another vital role for the Maroons, albeit possibly off the bench for the first time since 2009. A staple in the run-on side over the years, big Sam has reverted back to an interchange role for both Brisbane and Australia this year and with the further improvement of Papalii and McGuire looks set to play a similar role for Queensland. Can play both through the middle and on an edge and will be bound to make an impact upon entering the pitch.
17. JARROD WALLACE - Drove down the M1 from Brisbane to the Gold Coast over the off-season in a quest for more game time to further develop his promising career. Has proven a consistent performer for the Titans from the get-go averaging 136 metres and 30 tackles per game. Has a knack for poking his nose through the line on every carry, plays tough and strikes you as the type to embody the famous Queensland spirit.
18. DALY CHERRY-EVANS - With the injury concerns around future immortal Thurston, Coach Walters has the need for an 18th man ready to step in and fill the void if his start pivot can't prove his fitness. With Corey Norman ruled out of action for 4-6 weeks after picking up injury on the weekend, that just leaves Cherry-Evans in a battle with Anthony Milford to assume the role. Milford is a probable star of the future but his form has been a bit patchy in recent weeks leaving DCE in the box seat. Has shown his class guiding a strong Sea Eagles team around the park this year and his previous experience at this level and knowledge of the Maroons structures make him a logical choice. Don't be surprised to see 2016's boom rookie Ash Taylor brought into camp to gain some experience for the future as well.