Queensland’s middle forward rotation for Game I of the State of Origin series is a jigsaw puzzle where the available pieces seem to change by the week, but a must-pick selection is North Queensland Cowboys prop Matt Scott.
The Queensland Maroons have three middle forwards in outstanding form ahead of the series opener at Suncorp Stadium on June 5.
Canberra Raiders prop Josh Papalii is leading his pack with fire and brimstone, while Josh McGuire (Cowboys) and Jai Arrow (Gold Coast Titans) have both shone in teams that are yet to hit their straps.
McGuire left the field with a calf injury against the Titans on Friday night and has been ruled out for one to three weeks, so is expected to be available for the Maroons.
McGuire and Arrow are playing lock for their respective sides, but with lock/prop interchangeable these days, it will not be an issue for one of them to wear a starting front-rower’s jersey.
On the bench, the Maroons will likely play two middle forwards and ideally another that can interchange in the back-row.
One of them should be Scott, for what he offers on and off the field.
I interviewed the 33-year-old at length in Townsville back in December, where his pride and humility both shone through when the discussion turned to his representative career.
Scott didn’t demand to be selected for Queensland or kick stones about being left out in 2018, but he was honest.
Being overlooked for Game I of last year’s series hurt, before injury ruled him out for the rest of the series.
Scott made his Origin debut for the Maroons in Game I of the 2006 series, with a suite of debutantes and learned plenty of lessons in a 17-16 loss, where the scoreline did not reflect the Blues' dominance.
He did not play for Queensland again until Game III of the 2009 series.
From that match until the end of the 2016 series, Scott was not dropped by Queensland; he missed just the one Origin game, in 2014, and that was due to suffering a fractured eye socket in Game II of that series.
The 2017 series was a write-off due to injury, but for most of the previous decade Scott has been one of the first picked for Queensland after establishing himself as the world’s best prop.
Coach Kevin Walters said recently Scott had been playing better this year than at the same stage last season and he was the kind of player who would reinforce to the younger Maroons forwards what was required in the Origin arena.
Whether he starts or comes off the bench, you know you will get a wholehearted, tough and uncompromising 40-odd minutes out of the seasoned veteran.
Scott is also a key link to the great Maroons sides that forged a dynasty never before seen in the Origin arena. He is a winner.
Injuries and form have given Maroons selectors plenty of decisions to make regarding the makeup of the rest of their forward pack.
Roosters rake Jake Friend appeared a certainty until his ruptured bicep injury cruelled his chances.
Now Walters and company will likely have to decide between starting with Ben Hunt at hooker or picking a rookie now that last year’s No.9 Andrew McCullough has suffered an MCL injury.
The form hooker that is available right now is 21-year-old Reed Mahoney, who has been outstanding for the Eels.
Mahoney did represent the Maroons under 20s last year and has been put forward by pundits as an option.
Selectors will be hoping Cowboys hooker Jake Granville, who was right behind the retired Cameron Smith several years ago, can rediscover his best on a consistent basis in the coming weeks.
Melbourne’s Felise Kaufusi will be one of the starting back-rowers with Maroons veteran Matt Gillett, Cowboys stalwart Gavin Cooper and Brisbane teenager David Fifita all possibilities to partner him.
None of the latter three have been playing at their best this year on a regular basis, which will once again give selectors plenty to ponder.
The return of Dylan Napa for Canterbury Bulldogs from a syndesmosis injury is a positive development for Queensland and it is expected he will be one of the bench props in Game I.
The other bench forward options include Coen Hess, Tim Glasby, Christian Welch, Jarrod Wallace and Joe Ofahengaue; all of them are capable of doing the job and form over the next three weeks will only enhance their claims.