QUEENSLAND’S State of Origin future has become a premature reality after Johnathan Thurston joined fellow greats Matt Scott and Greg Inglis on a worrying Maroons injured list ahead of this year’s series.
Thurston, who overcame a calf tear to play in Australia’s 30-12 Anzac Test thumping of New Zealand, suffered a suspected tear in his shoulder that has placed a cloud over what was to be his final campaign with the Maroons.
Should Thurston miss the first game of this year’s series, it would also bring to an end his incredible record of playing 36 consecutive Origin games.
The possible loss of three of Queensland’s mainstays from the past decade has sent a jolt through Queensland’s preparations, made tougher by the fact NSW provided the bulk of Mal Meninga’s Kangaroos squad that vanquished the Kiwis.
Queensland has been preparing for some time for the inevitable loss of the core members of the Maroons’ senior playing group.
But those plans must now be ready to go in less than a month, with three stars now likely to be missing.
The loss of Thurston may well prove to be the hardest to replace, given his undoubted brilliance at Origin level as Queensland’s chief playmaker.
While there is thankfully a long list of quality replacements to wear the Maroon No.6, what the four-time Dally M Medallist brings to the team cannot be replaced.
Thurston’s Cowboys teammate Michael Morgan heads the queue of possible replacements, seeing as he is a full-time five-eighth at NRL level, and is a regular member of both the Queensland and Australian teams as a bench utility.
But Queensland coach Kevin Walters does have options at his disposal, should he decide Morgan’s ability to play anywhere across the park makes him a more valuable commodity coming off the bench for Queensland.
Manly’s Daly Cherry-Evans has been in terrific touch as the Sea Eagles have enjoyed their mid-season resurgence, has played at No.6, and has Origin and Test experience to boot.
It probably puts Cherry-Evans in front of other contenders like Gold Coast’s Ash Taylor and Brisbane’s Anthony Milford, who would need to handle the pressure of an Origin debut as well as replacing one of the greatest players the game has ever known.
Walters has made it clear that Billy Slater will return as Queensland’s fullback this year, so the option of switching Darius Boyd forward into five-eighth – a role he is tipped to play with Brisbane next year – is also a possibility, given Queensland’s glut of talent in the outside backs.
But as talented as Boyd is, it would not be a selection without its risks.
While Thurston’s injury was a major concern, it was not all bad news from a Maroons perspective out of the Anzac Test.
Matt Gillett won the man of the match award, reaffirming the view of many judges who now rate the Bribie Island junior as the best backrower in the world.
Queensland and Australian captain Cameron Smith was terrific again, marking his 50th Test for the Kangaroos in style.
Will Chambers and Valentine Holmes were also solid contributors, while Sam Thaiday was again dynamic, clearly enjoying his new role as an interchange impact weapon.
AUSTRALIA 30 (Josh Dugan, Blake Ferguson, Will Chambers, Tyson Frizell, Jake Trbojevic tries; Johnathan Thurston 5 goals) d NEW ZEALAND 12 (Simon Mannering, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck tries; Jordan Kahu 2 goals) at Canberra Stadium. Crowd: 18,535.