It's that time of the year again. The air's a little colder, the hype grows even bigger and there's a mysterious annual flu that runs through the Queensland team. Every Rugby League fan's Christmas' come at once, when the Queensland Maroons take on the New South Wales Blues in the pinnacle of our game, that is, State of Origin.
With both sides naming their respective teams for State of Origin I on June 6th, it's time to look at five things we learned from the players selected.
1. Freddy opts for attack
At first glance at the New South Wales team, the first thing that jumps out is the backline of attacking weapons Brad Fittler has selected. Players like Josh Addo-Carr and James Roberts are some of the quickest players in the game today, capable of scoring 100 metres tries should the opportunity present itself. Other outside backs, Latrell Mitchell, James Tedesco and Tom Trbojevic are all equally capable of blowing a game open with their individual brilliance. However, for any of these players to stamp their mark on the Origin arena they're going to have to receive the ball in an ideal position. This factor will be largely determined by the new-look NSW halves and whether Cleary and Maloney can use their outside men effectively. If the NSW forwards don't dominate the middle, it's going to prove very difficult for the halves to link up with the attacking dynamo's in the backline.
2. No Smith, no Thurston, no Cronk... no worries!
While the blow of losing State of Origin legends like Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk can't be understated, coach Kevin Walters must be feeling that now may actually the best time for them to step aside, with younger players banging on the door for State of Origin selection. Queensland have been holding onto their Origin legends for years wondering who will possibly be able to replace them in the years ahead, well that time has come, and although they aren't Smith, Cronk and Thurston, the new players brought in are seriously good players in their own right. McCullough will take over the hooker role after over 200 NRL games with the Brisbane Broncos, including multiple finals games and a Grand Final. Ben Hunt and Cameron Munster make up the halves pairing, both having played in Grand Finals and Test matches, and both with one Origin game already to their name.
Queensland themselves would be pinching themselves at the fact they're able to replace these incumbents with the quality that they have. The players Queensland have brought in are no strangers to big games, and with NSW blooding 11 debutants in the first game of the series, experience won't be as necessary as it has in the past, meaning it's an ideal time for the Maroons to begin transitioning from the legends that have previously held those jerseys into a new wave of Queensland dominance.
3. Hooker styles to face off
For the first time in recent memory both states enter an Origin series with a new number nine. Damien Cook and Andrew McCullough will debut for their respective states on Wednesday week, and too an extent typify what each of their teams is about. Cook is a potent attacking player who likes to run the ball, while his defense is admirable, his major strength is his running game. This is the theme throughout the NSW team, quick, attack-minded players are what Brad Fittler has chosen throughout both his backline and hooker. Queensland, on the other hand, have gone with McCullough, who doesn't bring the speed and "x-factor'' that Cook does, however he brings near-perfect defense, great service from dummy-half, as well as a third kicking option. McCullough is closer to the type of hooker we are used to seeing in State of Origin, but that's not to say Cook won't be able to expose Queensland through the middle. It'll be an intriguing battle, and one many spectators are looking forward to.
4. Centres of inconsistency
While the attacking brilliance of Latrell Mitchell and James Roberts has been touched on it must be said that attack is only half the game. In State of Origin players are defensively tested harder than they ever could be at club level, and Mitchell and Roberts have both shown defensive frailties throughout their NRL careers. With the quality of players that will be coming at them, on top of their already poor defensive characteristics, it wouldn't be surprising to see the young pair fall under the pressure of Origin and concede points. Especially when Mitchell will be defending outside of James Maloney, a man Fittler has publicly said needs the improve his defense. That's what makes their inclusion so intriguing, Fittler could've easily chosen a safer defensive options in Euan Aitken and Josh Dugan, but has instead opted for attacking players. The Blues gameplan is going to be largely centred on scoring a lot of points, if Queensland can hold on defensively, and exploit Mitchell and Roberts when given the chance, it could backfire on the rookie Blues coach.
5. DCE done
If Daly Cherry-Evans was ever going to play State of Origin again, it would've been now. Barring a significant drop in form or an injury crisis, it's very difficult to see the man once touted as the replacement to Johnathan Thurston getting into the Maroons side. Although consistently denied from the Maroons selectors that 'DCE' is out of favour with people within the Queensland system, the speculation still rages on. If you look solely at form in the past two years, you'd struggle to find a Queensland half that had played better than Cherry-Evans, and so fans are left to believe the reason for his non-selection goes deeper than just form. Of course it does. In 2015 Cherry-Evans lied to the Gold Coast Titans, saying he would be joining the club in 2016, before back-flipping on his word and re-signing with Manly. We now know this was only made possible because Cherry-Evans contract cheated the salary cap at Manly.
This year, Cherry-Evans, as captain, allowed his team to go out to a strip club against the word of the Manly coaching staff, and on that same night Cherry-Evans returned to the team hotel and had a physical altercation with fellow player Jackson Hastings. The incident ended Hastings time in the Sea Eagles jersey. Queensland cares deeply about their team culture, and have often chosen good people to come in, as well as good players. Selecting Cherry-Evans would undermine the culture of honesty and respect in the Queensland camp. This is a man that has been booed relentlessly when playing in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast, these same people are the Queensland fans. 'DCE' can never play for the Maroons, that bridge is burnt.
What big talking points came out of Monday's selection announcements for you? Let us know in the comments below.