Holders Queensland will rely on the Melbourne Storm ‘spine’ to give the Maroons victory in Wednesday’s State of Origin rugby league series decider against New South Wales in Brisbane.
Queensland have won 10 of the last 11 fiercely-fought interstate series and must do without injured mercurial Test pivot Johnathan Thurston and Test back Darius Boyd to clinch another one.
Thurston landed a pressure sideline conversion to crown a magnificent 18-16 comeback victory over the Blues last month to keep the series alive, but afterwards was ruled out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury.
The Maroons have named debutant Cameron Munster as Thurston’s replacement at stand-off, implanting the steely Melbourne Storm club ‘spine’ into the Queensland starting line-up.
Queensland will have skipper Cameron Smith at hooker along with his fellow Storm teammates Cooper Cronk at scrum-half, Munster at stand-off and Billy Slater at fullback along with Will Chambers in the centres.
“He’s playing with them every week these guys and understands their game,” Maroons coach Kevin Walters said after selecting Munster at No.6.
“Obviously the spine is a big part of what we do and certainly Cameron, Cooper and Billy are a major part of that.”
Smith, Cronk and Slater play an influential role in the Queensland team, with their innate understanding of attacking plays paramount to the Maroons’ chances.
Slater and Cronk are expected to make an announcement on their Origin futures after Wednesday’s crunch game.
“Hopefully we’ll find out after this series is done where Cooper’s at for next year, Bill’s a bit different,” Smith said.
“I think he’s very keen to play on, it’s just whether he feels his body’s up to it.
“I try to take the emotion out of it. It’s probably one of the biggest games we have been involved in, but we have to get a job done,” he added.
After amassing a record 41 Origins – including 17 as skipper – Smith said this year’s title would be his most enjoyable.
“It’d be the most satisfying, no doubt about that given the injuries we’ve had and the personnel that are unavailable,” he said.
The Blues are bidding to clinch their first Origin series since 2014 after decisively winning the opening game 28-4 in Brisbane.
Laurie Daley is in line to become only the second NSW coach after Phil Gould to claim more than one series triumph for NSW.
Daley has named an unchanged side, although skipper and back-rower Boyd Cordner is battling a calf injury to be ready in time for the match.
Queensland: Billy Slater; Valentine Holmes, Will Chambers, Michael Morgan, Dane Gagai; Cameron Munster, Cooper Cronk; Dylan Napa, Cameron Smith (capt), Jarrod Wallace; Gavin Cooper, Matt Gillett; Josh McGuire. Interchange: Ben Hunt, Josh Papalii, Coen Hess, Tim Glasby.
NSW: James Tedesco; Brett Morris, Josh Dugan, Jarryd Hayne, Blake Ferguson; James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce; Aaron Woods, Nathan Peats, Andrew Fifita; Boyd Cordner (capt), Josh Jackson; Tyson Frizell. Interchange: David Klemmer, Wade Graham, Jake Trbojevic, Jack Bird.
Referees: Matt Cecchin, Gerard Sutton.