Sunday 17 December 2017 / 02:02 AM

WHEN ORIGIN SELECTION GAMBLES BACKFIRE

Injury-hit Queensland has rolled the dice ahead of next week’s feverishly-anticipated State of Origin decider, ignoring the most logical, experienced and in-form option to counter the absence of legendary half Johnathan Thurston.

Daly Cherry-Evans, a veteran six Origins and 11 Tests and currently enjoyed a career-best run of form, was contentiously snubbed in favour of giving Michael Morgan his first Origin start and drafting in Cameron Munster and Ben Hunt for Maroons debuts.

The Queensland camp confirmed their starting line-up on Thursday, with Munster to help steer the ship from five-eighth and Morgan selected in the centres. Munster boasts just seven NRL starts at five-eighth, while Morgan has never played centre at first grade level.

Ben Hunt, who was running around in the InTrust Super Cup a few weeks back, has taken Morgan’s place as the Maroons’ bench utility, a role he hasn’t fulfilled at NRL level since he was Brisbane’s dummy-half back-up in 2013.

Leaving DCE out in the cold has caused a furore throughout the rugby league land, and from the outside it seems Queensland has tried to be too cute with their selections.

But their desperation to blood Munster instead of focussing on the job at hand is at the heart of the issue – there would have been little wrong with playing Morgan at five-eighth and bringing in a specialist winger or centre to plug the hole out wide. Even Munster on the bench makes more sense than Hunt from a versatility perspective.

Picking players out of position rarely pays off in the Origin arena, as this list of selection gambles gone wrong attests:

Karmichael Hunt (2008)

Billy Slater’s sensational burst of form to start 2008 bumped fullback incumbent Karmichael Hunt out of his preferred spot, but Queensland’s selectors were eager to cram the courageous Broncos custodian into the starting side somewhere. Hunt was named at five-eighth with Darren Lockyer sidelined as the Maroons ignored the claims of the brilliant Scott Prince. The experiment was an abject failure – despite a gutsy, kamikaze performance from Hunt – and Prince was called up for the remaining two games as Queensland came back from a convincing Game 1 loss to win the series, with Hunt starting at fullback and Slater coming off the bench. The Maroons’ series-opening bungle of ’08 bears a striking similarity to the Munster-Morgan-Hunt-DCE shambles.

Mark Gasnier (2006)

The Blues reacted to their 30-6 thrashing at the hands of the Maroons in Game 2 of the 2006 series by axing halves Brett Finch and Braith Anasta. Craig Gower came into the NSW side for the decider at halfback – nothing wrong with that – but Mark Gasnier’s selection at five-eighth came back to haunt them. The gun Dragons centre’s retrenchment only served to weaken two positions, while opposite number Darren Lockyer steered a patched-up Queensland to a dynasty-starting 16-14 triumph in Melbourne.

Matthew Johns (1998)

One of the premiership’s finest five-eighths in a halcyon era of brilliant No.6s, Matthew Johns played two Origins in the pivot role during the 1995 series, but was kept out of the NSW side by the likes of Brad Fittler and Laurie Daley thereafter. Johns’ last outing in the Origin cauldron came in the 1998 decider – when he made the only appearance of his career at hooker. The Blues’ horrendous injury toll claimed long-serving dummy-half Geoff Toovey, and with the likes of Nathan Brown, Aaron Raper and Craig Gower also unavailable, selectors tossed the duties to Johns. The Maroons powered to a convincing 19-4 win at the SFS as the Knights playmaker struggled with the rigours of 80 minutes in the middle.

Phil Duke (1982)

At least this guy was picked in his position, but it was nevertheless a bizarre selected that back-fired for the NSW. Moree Boomerangs winger Phil Duke was the first of just three players to be selected for the Blues from NSW country clubs – the others were Cootamundra backrower Paul Field (1983) and North Newcastle hooker Rex Wright (1984) – but he unquestionably made the biggest impact on the Origin narrative. The Indigenous winger was a shock selection for the 1982 decider after playing in Country Firsts’ 47-3 loss to City. He scored a dubious first-half try, before being involved in an infamous in-goal mix-up with NSW fullback Phil Sigsworth that allowed Wally Lewis to pounce for the winning try in Queensland’s 10-5 success. Duke later spent two seasons with Western Suburbs Magpies (1987-88).

Dylan Walker (2016)

A handful of scratchy showings at five-eighth with new club Manly was enough to convince Laurie Daley and Bob Fulton that Dylan Walker was a smart bench utility option for last year’s series opener – and didn’t it cause a stink with fans and the media! Walker made zero impact, before playing in his specialist centre spot in the Game 2 loss and ultimately getting dropped for the dead-rubber. Ironically, Walker has barely rated a mention in the selection stakes this year despite producing some magnificent performances for the Sea Eagles, while the Blues run with two fullbacks in the centres.

Jamie Buhrer (2012)

The prequel to Walker’s dubious selection, Buhrer’s selection as the NSW bench utility raised many an eyebrow in the lead-up to the 2012 series opener and was savaged in the aftermath following a pointless seven-minute cameo at dummy-half. The Blues went with a four-forward bench for the remaining two games and came within a point of winning the series. Buhrer hasn’t had a look-in since.

Wendell Sailor (1996)

Newcastle fullback Robbie O’Davis was one of the heroes of Queensland’s unlikely Super League-affected 1995 triumph, before being cast aside following an insipid 14-6 loss in the ’96 series opener with the rebel players back on board. Wing powerhouse Wendell Sailor was the Maroons’ option to fill the crucial custodian role, which he had done just twice in first grade for the Broncos. Sailor performed adequately, but was unable to stop the Blues from powering to a 3-0 whitewash. O’Davis returned in 1997, while the Maroons have been blessed with the likes of Lockyer, Bowen, Hunt, Slater, Inglis and Boyd since, meaning they haven’t been required to pitch an inexperienced performer in at the back.

John Cartwright (1989)

Jack Gibson’s new-look side for the 1989 series opener contained eight debutants, including Penrith’s skilful back-rower John Cartwright…who was picked at prop. The renowned ball-player had started just one match for the Panthers in the front-row – back in 1986 – and the Blues’ pack was monstered in a record 36-6 loss at Lang Park. Cartwright slipped back to the bench for the remaining two games, with veteran hard-man and Panthers teammate Peter Kelly called up to plug the hole up front.

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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