Who you gonna call?
The announcement of the Kangaroos team to face New Zealand on May 6 has heralded the start of the senior representative season and indicates that State of Origin is not too far away.
Talk of who would represent their respective states began even before Round 1 kicked off and has only intensified as the weeks have passed.
But while selection for 17 players means an opportunity to represent their state, it also opens the door for a large number of players to show that their performances in the Intrust Super Cup are worthy of an NRL call-up.
For the purposes of identifying who may be elevated into the NRL during the Origin period; this is the Maroons team I believe will be selected for Game I in Sydney on June 1: Darius Boyd, Dane Gagai, Greg Inglis, Justin O'Neill, Corey Oates, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Matt Scott, Cameron Smith, Nate Myles, Matt Gillett, Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker. Interchange: Michael Morgan, Josh McGuire, Aidan Guerra, Josh Papalii.
This squad alone boasts 10 players from the Broncos and Cowboys and doesn't include the likes of James Tamou and James Roberts who are in line to be picked for New South Wales. With both the Broncos and Cowboys in action in Round 12 the week prior to Origin I, there are some vacancies to be filled.
The likes of Marion Seve, Tevita Pangai, Kalyn Ponga and Braden Uele are all furthering their games in either the Intrust Super Cup or Holden Cup, but Channel Nine commentator and rugby league legend Scott Sattler (FOG 137) believes coaches such as Wayne Bennett and Paul Green will err on the side of caution rather than blood rookies.
“A lot of people would say that it is a good stage to blood them, when you are forced to blood them, but you have to be very careful about throwing kids in at the deep end,” Sattler said.
“I think you're more likely to see guys who have at least had a taste of first grade in the past and who the coaches know what they're going to get from them than absolute rookies with no experience.”
With the Broncos to likely be without Boyd and Oates, that paves the way for Aaron Whitchurch (Redcliffe) and Greg Eden (Wynnum Manly) to come back into the backline; but it is in the forwards where they will be most affected.
McGuire, Gillett, Parker and Thaiday are all certainties to be named which should see Jai Arrow (Norths), Herman Ese'ese (Souths Logan), Travis Waddell (Souths Logan), Francis Molo (Norths) and Tevita Pangai (Souths Logan) come into consideration.
In his first year out of the Under 20s, lock forward Arrow has been a standout for Norths in the Intrust Super Cup and has a big fan in Sattler.
“I've known Jai since he was 14 and he's an NRL player waiting to happen,” said Sattler.
“It's not so much the way that he plays – because that's outstanding – it's the way that he prepares and looks after himself.
“He prepares every day as if he is an NRL player now and could get a call-up tonight.
“If a game went for a week he'd still be going and his first hit-up and his first tackle would be exactly the same as his last.”
The Cowboys' biggest headache looks to be in the halves with Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan to be missing in Rounds 12 (v Dragons) and 16 (v Raiders).
Kyle Laybutt has been excellent at five-eighth for the high-flying Blackhawks, but Sattler believes a backline reshuffle that will see Tautau Moga (Mackay) and Javid Bowen (Northern Pride) brought in and Lachlan Coote partnering either Rory Kostjasyn or John Asiata playing in the halves is a more likely scenario.
With five games under his belt last season, Northern Pride prop Ben Spina should add to his tally of NRL games and fellow Pride forward Patrick Kaufusi will be expected to play a more dominant role in the absence of Scott and Tamou.
There are only a few more games in which to impress NRL coaches looking for those to make the jump, so expect the level of intensity to go up a notch again in the coming weeks.
A former editor of Big League, Tony Webeck is the Chief Queensland Correspondent for NRL.com.