QUEENSLAND selector Gene Miles admits he can’t wait to experience a “massive headache” with the Maroons when State of Origin rolls around in 2018.
Miles and his fellow Queensland selectors will have a task in front of them next year – working out who to leave out, rather than who to put in.
While the representative retirements of Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk were expected to deliver a hammer blow to Queensland’s Origin dominance, the shockwave has been reduced thanks to the Maroons’ incredible depth.
Never in Origin history has Queensland had such a talent pool to draw on as they will in 2018.
While Thurston and Cronk will be gone, fellow veterans Matt Scott and Greg Inglis will be itching for a return to Origin after missing the 2017 series with injury.
The pair will be hoping to replicate the return of their great mate Billy Slater, who made a triumphant Origin encore in the final two games of the series after two years out with injury.
Scott and Inglis have been automatic selections for Queensland for more than a decade, and no one would bet against them returning to their peak in time for Origin I in 2018.
Darius Boyd missed Game III because of injury, and will also be pressing for a return. But how and where he fits into a back-three made up of Slater, Valentine Holmes and Dane Gagai is anyone’s guess.
Holmes reaffirmed his status as one of the best wingers in the game with his record-breaking try-scoring feats for Australia during the World Cup, while rep footy specialist Gagai will go into next year’s Origin series with a Wally Lewis Medal as player of the series.
The congestion is no less busy in the halves, even with the departure of Thurston and Cronk from the roles they have made their own during Queensland’s decade of dominance.
Cowboys star Michael Morgan appears to be the favourite to inherit the No.7 in 2018, given his superlative form for the Cowboys at halfback as North Queensland won through to an unlikely grand final against Melbourne.
But Ben Hunt will be hoping his move to the Dragons will act as a springboard to press his claims, after making his Origin debut as a bench utility in Game III.
At five-eighth, Melbourne young gun Cameron Munster will lay claim to the first crack at Queensland’s No.6, given his heroic debut for the Maroons in Game III.
But Brisbane’s Anthony Milford was Queensland’s first-choice five-eighth in the first game of the series, and may well have stayed there had he not been injured.
That is before you even get to playmaking rookies and Emerging Origin squad members like Ash Taylor and Moses Mbye, who will be looking for big seasons under new coaches at their rebuilding clubs.
The puzzle does not get any easier to solve up front, where Scott will be looking to regain his mantle as the game’s No.1 prop with the Maroons.
To do that though, he has to force his way back into a pack featuring young monsters Dylan Napa, Coen Hess, Tim Glasby and Jarrod Wallace, who all enjoyed successful Origin debuts in 2017 alongside veterans Matt Gillett, Josh McGuire, Josh Papalii and Gavin Cooper.
So, yeah. Good luck Queensland selectors.
“It is going to be an enormous headache that is for sure, but one we are looking forward to,” chairman of selectors Geno said.
“Through injury and that disaster in Game I, we were forced into a massive changing of the guard this year, and Kevin Walters deserves an enormous amount of credit for the way he was able to see the team through that and still emerge out the other side with the trophy.
“We have been very lucky over the past decade or more where we have been able to keep that core group of guys together, which gave us tremendous stability for a lot of years and allowed us to introduce new players into the system slowly.
“This year, we brought in eight new players for Origin debuts during the course of one series, which is a huge turnover in any era of Origin.
“But we now go into the next series in a position where we have this huge bank of players with Origin experience pushing for selection.
“We know that injuries, suspension and form will make a lot of decisions for us.
“But even then we are still going to have this massive headache of having to fit so many good, experienced players into a 17-man squad.
“It is going to be a really tough job. But, really, it’s a great problem to have, isn’t it?”