Queensland has named its squad for the 2017 State of Origin series opener – and there’s more than a couple of surprises.
In one of the tightest and most agonising selection calls the Maroons have ever been forced to make, legendary fullback Billy Slater has been left out in favour of incumbent Darius Boyd remaining in the No.1 jumper.
Given his brilliant return for Melbourne after two injury-riddled years, most expected Slater to return to the spot he held a mortgage on from 2008-14, with Boyd – who played 23 straight games on the wing and scored 16 tries before taking over at fullback last year – moving back to the flank.
Gene Miles has said leaving out Billy Slater was his toughest selection decision in 17 years.
— Brad Walter (@BradWalterSport) May 22, 2017
But coach Kevin Walters and the selectors opted to keep the influential Boyd in his favoured position and stay loyal to last year’s three-quarter line. Justin O’Neill has kept his centre spot against most predictions, while Corey Oates and Dane Gagai will again line up on the wings with Will Chambers replacing the injured Greg Inglis.
Test winger Valentine Holmes was left out in photo finish with Oates.
The other notable call was the naming of debutant Anthony Milford in the No.6 jumper, with Johnathan Thurston listed as 18th man and not expected to recover from a shoulder injury in time for Game 1. Michael Morgan stays in the bench utility role he occupied five times in 2015-16.
Thurston has played the last 36 Origins in a row.
— Liam Cox (@LiamCox_TV) May 22, 2017
Dylan Napa, as expected, will start in the front-row on debut, where he will be paired with Nate Myles. The out-of-form veteran was under massive pressure to keep his Queensland spot, but he has overcome a season and a half of indifferent performances for Manly – and a leg injury suffered in the Sea Eagles’ Round 11 fixture – to get the nod. Gold Coast prop Jarrod Wallace is on standby should Myles be forced out by the injury.
Qld Origin team just in. If @GCTitans Jarrod Wallace isn’t better than Nate Myles then this page is run by National Turkeys Association.
— Gold Coast News (@GoldCoastBureau) May 22, 2017
The 33-year-old Jacob Lillyman also retains his interchange berth, but arguably the luckiest bench inclusion is Aidan Guerra, whose form for the Roosters has been underwhelming for the past year; he ousted incumbent Gavin Cooper and fellow Cowboys Coen Hess and Ethan Lowe for a place in the Maroons’ 17.
Josh McGuire inherits Corey Parker’s No.13 jersey, as he did at the Broncos this year, while Sam Thaiday has been named on the bench for the first time since 2009, starting in 19 of the 21 Origins played since.
QUEENSLAND MAROONS SQUAD FOR STATE OF ORIGIN GAME 1, 2017
1. Darius Boyd, 2. Corey Oates, 3. Will Chambers, 4. Justin O’Neill, 5. Dane Gagai, 6. Anthony Milford, 7. Cooper Cronk, 8. Dylan Napa, 9. Cameron Smith (c), 10. Nate Myles, 11. Josh Papalii, 12. Matt Gillett, 13. Josh McGuire. 14. Michael Morgan, 15. Sam Thaiday, 16. Aidan Guerra, 17. Jacob Lillyman. 18th man: Johnathan Thurston.
— NRL (@NRL) May 22, 2017
Kevin walters breaks down as he discusses overlooking billy slater for origin I pic.twitter.com/eOq7XWqJoJ
— pete badel (@badel_cmail) May 22, 2017