Anthony Milford and Moses Mbye have emerged as possible bench utility options for the Queensland Maroons ahead of the team announcement on Monday for Game I of the State of Origin series.
The Brisbane Broncos five-eighth's stellar form in consecutive wins over Manly and Sydney Roosters, along with his previous experience as a Maroon, has him in pole position.
The Wests Tigers fullback is favoured for the role by good judges, including former Queensland coach Mal Meninga, but the pair are not the only contenders for the bench utility position.
When it comes to who will wear the No.14 jersey for Queensland, it will depend on which way the selectors choose to go with the starting hooker.
If it is St George Illawarra Dragons half Ben Hunt, then the chances of Mbye and Milford will firm. But if North Queensland Cowboys rake Jake Granville gets the nod, that will likely push Hunt back to the bench where he was such a success in Queensland’s 18-12 victory over New South Wales in Game III of the 2018 series.
Match: Maroons v Blues
Game 3 -
Venue: Suncorp Stadium
- Nine Network
The utility position was a vital one for the Maroons throughout their recent decade of dominance.
Cooper Cronk wore the No.14 jersey in 2010 and 2011 before stepping into the halves on the retirement of Darren Lockyer.
Queensland utilised Michael Morgan in the role in eight consecutive Origin games from 2015 to 2017. Morgan may get to fill the role again this year if he is not selected at centre.
The Maroons have also varied it up in the past with versatile forwards such as Matt Gillett and Corey Parker wearing 14 on their backs.
That is why Broncos teenager David Fifita has been mentioned as a possible option on a four-forward bench, allowing Josh McGuire to fill in at hooker if the starting No.9 needs a break.
Milford was selected as the Maroons utility last year and has played two games for Queensland. He is a player coach Kevin Walters has got the best out of before, as assistant coach at the Broncos.
The Brisbane playmaker can play several positions in the backline, but is not noted for his dummy-half play. On the flip side, weighing in at 92kg he is a robust half and has the capacity to win a game on his own.
The selection of Milford would give the Maroons plenty of creativity in their squad.
It would be an unusual circumstance, and perhaps a first, if Milford, Hunt, Daly Cherry-Evans, Cameron Munster and Michael Morgan – all halves in club football – were selected in the Queensland 17.
Mbye can play in the halves or at fullback and is more suited to dummy-half, where he has played club football in the past.
The claims of Fifita are compelling despite being aged just 19. He is strong as an ox and while he won’t be an option at dummy-half, he can play on an edge, in the middle or in the centres if required.
It is a question of when, not if, he will play for the Maroons.
Walters and fellow selectors Gene Miles, Darren Lockyer and Billy Slater will have to decide whether Game I of this year’s series - a must-win for Queensland - is too early to introduce him to the next level.
Presuming Cherry-Evans is fit, Queensland’s question marks remain over the hooker and the forward bench rotation.
The backline of Kalyn Ponga, Corey Oates, Morgan, Will Chambers, Dane Gagai, Munster and Cherry-Evans is firming as the likely backline.
Josh Papalii, Jai Arrow, McGuire and Dylan Napa are expected to be four of the middle forwards with Gillett and Felise Kaufusi the likely second-rowers.
The recent form of Broncos prop Joe Ofahengaue has enhanced his chances of a Maroons debut, while Jarrod Wallace, Tim Glasby, Matt Scott and Coen Hess will all be in the frame.
Scott’s blockbusting display for the Cowboys against the Parramatta Eels last week will have enhanced his chances of a recall, while Glasby has been playing strongly in a Newcastle Knights side that has won four games on the trot.