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Maroons master strokes at selection table

The Queensland Maroons have picked a team for the time.

That time is now.

When Maroons coach Kevin Walters declared on Monday his side would win Game I of the State of Origin series, it was with conviction and confidence.

That confidence is born out of the 17 men Walters and his fellow selectors have chosen.

It is a perfect balance of selecting a side on form, while rewarding experienced campaigners who have done the job.

The selection of debutants Joe Ofahengaue and David Fifita was not one based on the prospect of successful Origin futures ahead of them.

It was based solely on the impact and influence both can bring to the table right now to win Game I for Queensland at Suncorp Stadium, after stellar performances for the Brisbane Broncos.

David Fifita. Photo: NRL Images
David Fifita. Photo: NRL Images

They have both bashed down the door to get into the side.

The progression of 19-year-old forward Fifita is remarkable considering 12 months ago he was playing Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup for Souths Logan Magpies.

Walters has backed him because of his progression since, and proven track record of stepping up to excel each time he has been elevated to the next level.

Fifita will be a wrecking ball for the Maroons off the bench, while Ofahengaue will be more of a reliable machine. His penchant for work, error-free football and capacity to play big minutes if required makes him the ideal Origin forward.

Ofahengaue represented his family heritage with distinction for Tonga, but he has lived in Queensland since he was eight and represented the state at age level and the Queensland under 20s.

Joe Ofahengaue. Photo: NRL Images
Joe Ofahengaue. Photo: NRL Images

The selection of Mbye is a shrewd one by the Maroons.

The Wests Tigers skipper was in the Emerging Origin program in 2016 and 2017, where he was identified as a Maroon in waiting.

Mbye’s capacity to play at dummy-half and virtually anywhere in the backline makes him the ideal utility for the Maroons. He received stiff competition from Queensland’s 19th man Anthony Milford, who came right into the selection frame on the back of an outstanding month.

The trio of debutants will provide energy and enthusiasm to the squad.

One of the best jobs coach Walters has is to inform new players they have been selected and Sunday night was no different.

“They were all very excited,” Walters said.

“Joe stayed over in New Zealand after the [Broncos] game and he thought I was lying to him - he thought it was a gee up. He said ‘is Alfie with you?’ and I said ‘no, he's not’. He hung up, then rang me back and said ‘Kevvie I can't believe this, this is amazing’.

“Moses was the same - he was choking up.

Moses Mbye. Photo: NRL Images
Moses Mbye. Photo: NRL Images

"Dave took it in his stride. I told him he had made the Queensland under 18s team and he said ‘I’m too old for that’, so I said well you better come and play Origin then. He said ‘are you serious?’

"It means a lot to them and they will repay the selection choice.”

The selection choice of Matt Gillett in the second-row is one that has rewarded excellence over a long period of time in the Origin arena.

After playing 18 Origin games in a row, Gillett missed last year’s series with a neck injury. His return will solidify the edge defence and his leadership will also be of inestimable value to Walters’ men.

For a side that lost one of the greatest fullbacks of any era to retirement in Billy Slater, the replacement is a player who could well light up State of Origin for the next decade.

Kalyn Ponga has scored seven tries in his last six games for Newcastle Knights while playing fullback and has been in career best form.

That augers well for the Maroons, particularly considering five-eighth Cameron Munster relishes attacking down the left side, which Ponga also favours.

Knights half Mitchell Pearce has found a way of putting Ponga in space in recent weeks and that will also be a mission for Munster.

Captain Daly Cherry-Evans will relish his new role.

The Manly skipper thrives when given extra responsibility and will enjoy being the linchpin of the team. He will want to dominate the series and Walters said he was more than capable.

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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