Monday 19 February 2018 / 01:09 PM


Johnathan Thurston embodies the ethos that has laid the foundation for Queensland’s dominance. Game 2 was by no means the best individual game of his sparkling Origin career, but it may be the most reflective of everything this run has incorporated — character, heart, an undying belief and, of course, the clutch ability to pull victory from the very seeming jaws of defeat.

That isn’t easy to replace, no matter the size of the talent pool they have waiting in the wings. Darius Boyd has been as integral to the identity of the legendary team as any non-spine player, and as a centre was filling perhaps his most important duty yet, getting the job done far from his comfort zone.

After their subpar showings in Game 1, the Maroons wielded the axe on two other veterans vital to the make-up of the squad, Sam Thaiday and Nate Myles. Those changes were optional, with superior choice available and waiting. Replacing Thurston and Boyd won’t be as seamless.

Firstly, it’d be remiss of me to fail to note the non-selection of Daly Cherry-Evans. The controversy of it all has been covered ad nauseam, but the tactical decision has been left in background. Cherry-Evans has been the best halfback in the league (so far) this season, more than deserving of an Origin call-up. They went another direction, and that’s fine. But in tripping over themselves in a blatant attempt to prove it was nothing personal, they forgot to properly explain the reason as to why he didn’t find his way into the team. I start at this point because if Queensland fail to fire, or their attack comes apart, everything will be viewed through this lens.

DCE should have started in the halves. His swerving, jittering style perfectly complements Cronk’s direct approach, and does it’s best to replace the threat of JT. He has no issue playing either side of the field, owns a competent kicking game and is effective at first or second receiver. Essentially, he would have fit in perfectly to the team’s established set’up, and whilst he can’t replace JT’s character, he would have come close to doing so in production. Not to mention his scorching form.

That’s what made him the best candidate for the job, and what Walters and co. failed to explain as they stumbled through excuses.

However, they went with Cameron Munster instead. And if they were hellbent on leaving out DCE, they’ve found the next best option. All of the above stands true for Munster, aside from the kicking game, although he’s made strides in that department. He might not be the calibre of ball-player DCE is, but he is a far superior ball-runner and is dynamic taking on the line.

His comfort within the Melbourne spine should help ease the transition, but all the risk associated with his selection surrounds his debut coming in the midst of the decider. Keep in mind, he played in a grand final last season, so he is no stranger to a big occasion. It can’t fully prepare him, but he’ll be as comfortable as possible given the situation. But in terms of fit within the team and system, Munster will be fine.

The expansive style Queensland like to play with their dual half system didn’t lend itself well to incumbent utility Michael Morgan. Although he has improved running the show at club level, playmaking doesn’t come natural to his game. That was the deciding factor between him and Munster at No.6, and this in part is what makes him running out at centre very intriguing.

This is a high-upside move. The higher up the player chain Morgan has risen over the past few seasons, the more playmaking he has been tasked with. Minimising his responsibilities should allow the core strengths of his game — ball-running and tackle-breaking — to come to the forefront. If he’s able to get the ball in space and play his natural game, his contributions should instantly increase.

There is a slight concern defensively, not having the reps making decisions out wide, but he is more than solid in his regular spot and shouldn’t struggle too much in making the switch. Even then, if NSW are to target him, they’ll be moving away from their own strengths to accommodate for what might not even be a weakness. Sure, it’s a concern, but a minimal one at most.

What should help Morgan most is finally an opportunity to have sustained game-time and a chance to work his way into the rhythm of the game, his first start in rep football. He is a legitimate game-breaker, responsible for two of the biggest plays in modern rugby league — ironically both passes, to Kyle Feldt for the best clutch try in history, and Dane Gagai to steal Game 2 — so expect him to factor into the result if he gets his hands on the ball.

The man who takes his spot on the bench, Ben Hunt, was perhaps the biggest bolter of the series. His impact will remain unknown until midway through the contest, but it would be a surprise if Walters was to use him in a similar role to Morgan. Although they’ve suggested so, Hunt won’t be coming on to play hooker unless, God forbid, Cameron Smith goes down with an injury.

Hunt is a strong ball-runner for a halfback, but that comes in the context of the play, from the attention of the outside runner to the threat of his passing — he isn’t a damaging ball-runner in a conventional sense, and they aren’t going to throw him out there in attempts to break open the game. His versatile game does however suggest he can wear many hats and fill in wherever needed.

With the snubbing of DCE put aside, Queensland’s have put their best foot forward in replacing two of their most valuable veterans. Munster and Hunt are two very high-quality replacements, and Morgan has a chance to finally put forward a trademark performance in his first Origin start. Whether the occasion gets the best of them remains to be seen, but the Maroons won’t go into the decider understrength.

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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