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Queensland's Cup runneth over

By Tony Webeck

ISC17_News_TonyWebeck_FINAL
Corey Jensen started the season with Townsville and has now been named to play in the NRL grand final with the Cowboys.

I've got to be honest, as someone originally from south of the border; all this talk of Queensland players dominating the NRL finals series this year has gotten under my skin somewhat.

When the Storm and Cowboys do battle on Sunday evening at ANZ Stadium in Sydney to determine the Telstra Premiership champions for 2017, there will be 10 players who at some stage played during the 2017 State of Origin series for the Maroons.

The only grand final combatant to even get a sniff of a Blues jersey this year was Storm lock forward Dale Finucane who came into the New South Wales camp for Game III.

The Queensland dominance is one of which to be proud, but the point I have made the past few weeks is that if – like the Storm – my team had seven Origin-calibre players turning out each week, I too would expect them to go deep into September.

Even without their two most influential Queenslanders, the Cowboys still boast four current Maroons, while Ethan Lowe and Kyle Feldt also spent time in Origin camp 12 months ago.

The greatest concentration of Blues in any NRL team this year was the four Sharks players who succumbed to the resurgent Cowboys in Week 1 of the finals series and couldn't defy the curse of the premiership hangover that is now in its 20th year.

So while the concentration of elite Queensland talent into teams such as the Storm, Cowboys and Broncos should ensure they are perennial premiership contenders; an overlooked aspect is the role of the development pathway in Queensland and the far-reaching tentacles of the Intrust Super Cup.

Where the Intrust Super Premiership in NSW covers an area of less than 270km from top to bottom, the Intrust Super Cup stretches from Cairns in the state’s north more than 1700km down into NSW to Tweed Heads.

It provides an opportunity for emerging players in all corners of the state to gain exposure to elite level competition without having to leave their local region.

Long-time Queensland and Kangaroos selector Des Morris is of course a legend of the Easts Tigers, having held every post there is from captain right through to CEO, and pays credit to the vision of John McDonald and Ross Livermore to take the Brisbane Rugby League competition and expand it to encompass virtually the entire state in 1996.

“They were pretty innovative guys and that has been followed through with the current administration,” Morris said.

“You see our comp and it's statewide and you look at NSW comp and it's Sydney.

“Fortunately for Queensland, that's probably what has held us in good stead over the years.

“When you cut through it all, that [grand final representation] is pretty amazing, and long may it continue.”

To understand the depth of influence the Intrust Super Cup is having on the National Rugby League's top teams; consider that of the 34 players due to run out in the main event on Sunday, only five – Finucane, Josh Addo Carr, Jesse Bromwich, Kane Linnett and Te Maire Martin – have never played in Queensland's premier competition, whilst there are six who have played Cup this season alone.

Cameron Smith (28 games), Cooper Cronk (61) and Billy Slater (24) had their introduction to first grade via Norths Devils, Jake Granville played 110 Cup games before becoming a regular in North Queensland and young prop Corey Jensen started the season with the Blackhawks before becoming a Cowboys regular.

According to stats guru Brad Tallon, there are 444 games of Intrust Super Cup experience in the Storm team and 517 amongst the Cowboys for a grand total of 961 games of grounding that has held them all in such good stead at the highest level.

The toughest question for Queenslanders not aligned to either the Storm or Cowboys this week is; with so many state products in both teams, who do we actually cheer for?

A former editor of Big League, Tony Webeck is the Chief Queensland Correspondent for NRL.com.

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