Six great halves into two Queensland starting halves spots won’t go. That is why naming the greatest Maroons side of all time is a challenge that leads to the inevitable question of ‘how could you leave HIM out?’.
It is the season for naming ‘best’ teams at the moment with NRL.com just unveiling its best NRL side of the decade starting in 2010. I was going to name a Maroons ‘best’ team of the same decade, but Queensland Rugby League's Nathan Jones has already got that coming later in the week, so my task became to name the Maroons' best ever outfit from the State of Origin era.
That is no easy assignment, let me tell you.
The best Maroons teams of all time were, in my opinion, the sides of the late 1980s that won eight Origin matches in a row, from game two of 1987 through to game three of 1989, and the sides that won a clean sweep in 2010 and backed that up with a 2-1 win in Darren Lockyer’s last series as captain in 2011.
Most of the players in the best ever team I have named played in those teams with the exception of Arthur Beetson, Shane Webcke, Brad Thorn, Wendell Sailor and Gorden Tallis.
Let us begin with the starting halves because once that is decided the rest of the puzzle becomes clearer.
When Rugby League Week magazine published a ‘Heroes of Origin’ magazine in 2013, a poll of 100 of the best Origin players from all eras, from both New South Wales and Queensland, was done. One of the questions was: ‘Who is the greatest Origin player of all time?’
Wally Lewis won hands down. Lewis is my No.6; his eight man of the match awards in 34 games for the Maroons speaks for itself. Lewis dominated the Origin arena in the 1980s like no other player has done since. Lewis controlled games, won games and led his men with awe-inspiring authority. Ask any of them who was the best they played with and Lewis is the name on their lips.
For more than 10 years I have campaigned for Allan Langer to be made an Immortal because he remains the best halfback I have seen, so I would be a hypocrite to leave him out despite the claims of Johnathan Thurston to be Lewis’s halves partner.
From the moment Langer came on the Origin scene in 1987 until his triumphant return for Queensland in 2001, when he inspired a remarkable win in the decider, he defined what a ‘match winner’ is. His partnership with Lewis was the Maroons' ‘yin and yang’. They complemented each other like no other duo has since.
After Lewis sailed off into the sunset in 1991, the Maroons had Kevin Walters then Lockyer, Thurston and Cooper Cronk play in the halves. Of those four Thurston is the one that is hardest to leave out of my starting side, but I have hitched my wagon to Langer’s star for a long time and have not changed my mind about his pre-eminence.
In picking teams such as this there is always the advantage of having a philosophy of picking the best and finding spots for them. I have not selected anyone out of a position they played at Origin level, apart from one on the bench who I will come to now.
When it comes to the backline the best four players of the Maroons decade of dominance from 2006 were Lockyer, Thurston, Greg Inglis and Billy Slater.
That quartet will be future Immortals with Lockyer likely to be the first cab off the rank. Rather than leave out one, I have to find a place for all of them in my 17. The only way to do that is to play Inglis at left centre, Slater on the wing, Lockyer at fullback where he played his first 16 Origin games and Thurston on the bench.
I was very tempted to play Slater at fullback because he is without doubt the best No.1 I have seen, but I want all four of those modern greats in the side somewhere. Slater started his Origin career on the wing. Thurston has of course not played on the bench apart from his early days at Canterbury, but with Langer at halfback that is where he must be. A match winner and the best competitor I have seen, Thurston would do any job asked of him.
Inglis’s centre partner is Mal Meninga - a recent addition to the Immortals ranks. Meninga’s career speaks for itself and for Queensland he was a colossus without rival. It pains me to have to leave Steve Renouf out of this side, but I can’t go past Inglis and Meninga as the starting centres. Inglis was at his best in the Origin arena and remains the Maroons' leading try-scorer in Origin history.
On the other wing I have picked Wendell Sailor. His power and size in Origin football was a real weapon for the Maroons in his pomp.
The first Queensland forward named as an Immortal was Arthur Beetson and without him there would not be Origin football as we know it. A ball-playing front-rower without peer, the first captain of the Maroons also has the © beside his name in my side.
His starting front row partner in the engine room is Petero Civoniceva. Together that duo would send shivers down the spine of any NSW outfit.
The back row is a tough one but I have gone for a combination of physical presence, raw aggression and creativity. For that reason I have chosen Gorden Tallis and Gene Miles in the second row.
Miles, named on the bench in the Queensland team of the century, played most of his Origin career at centre but in 1989 was dynamic in the back row in Queensland’s 3-0 series win. That team was one of the best, if not the best, Maroons teams ever and Miles was a wrecking ball in it. His incredible ball skills make him the perfect complement to the fire and brimstone of Tallis.
At lock I have gone with Bob Lindner. He was the complete player in that position for Queensland, in much the same way as Brad Clyde was for NSW. It was hard to leave Tonie Carroll out of the side because of his powerful defence and ball-running ability, but Lindner was all class. I was reluctant to leave Trevor Gillmeister out of the second row, but one injury to any of the duo I have selected and ‘The Axe’ would be straight in.
At hooker there is only one option and that is Cameron Smith. His career is not over yet, but already Smith and ‘the best of all time’ are mentioned in the same breath. The thought of Smith in tandem with Lewis and Langer is an intoxicating one to say the least.
On the bench, with Thurston, I have gone with three big men who can do the business. Shane Webcke, Matt Scott and Brad Thorn fit that bill.
Webcke was a warhorse and Scott was the leading prop in the game for most of Queensland’s greatest era. Thorn’s Maroons career was not long due to his rugby union sojourn, but there is no doubt in my mind he was one of the best forwards in both codes of his generation. On the bench I wanted three big men who would come on and not just continue the work of the starting forwards but also up the ante. That trifecta would be a bench to be reckoned with.
Any great Maroons side needs a great coach and Wayne Bennett is the man for the job without question. The coach who gave Smith his debut in 2003 would enjoy working with a team that has it all.
The best ever Maroons team
- Darren Lockyer
- Billy Slater
- Greg Inglis
- Mal Meninga
- Wendell Sailor
- Wally Lewis
- Allan Langer
- Arthur Beetson (C)
- Cameron Smith
- Petero Civoniceva
- Gene Miles
- Gorden Tallis
- Bob Lindner
- Johnathan Thurston
- Shane Webcke
- Matt Scott
- Brad Thorn
Coach - Wayne Bennett