BILLY Slater will become just the 14th man to captain Queensland in State of Origin after being named as skipper of an overhauled Maroons squad for Origin III.
Queensland’s finest hours have always been delivered with their backs against the wall, and it is difficult to recall a time in recent memory when the Maroons have been so deeply under siege.
With the series now gone after the loss to NSW in Origin II at ANZ Stadium, the Maroons will be fighting to avoid a whitewash at Suncorp Stadium on July 11, but will have to do it with a squad left ravaged by cruel injuries.
Chief among them is Queensland skipper Greg Inglis, unquestionably the Maroons’ best player in the first two games, who was ruled out after breaking his thumb playing for South Sydney against North Queensland.
Inglis will hand the leadership mantle over to his good friend Slater, who will captain Queensland in his 31stand last Origin appearance.
Also missing from Origin II is rookie Kalyn Ponga, with a serious hamstring injury preventing him from building on his excellent debut in Origin II.
But history shows that crises are the breeding grounds of opportunity, and a couple of returning Maroons have the chance to re-establish themselves in the Queensland team in Origin III.
The most high-profile of these is Daly Cherry-Evans, who returns to the No.7 jersey after three years out of Origin, determined to prove he belongs in this arena which has unfortunately never seen his best.
DCE’s return sees Ben Hunt relegated to the bench, with his greater versatility and ability to break open a game either from halfback or hooker making him an ideal utility weapon.
The injury to Inglis sees last year’s Wally Lewis Medal winner Dane Gagai move off the wing and into the centres, handing a return to the in-form Corey Oates on the flank.
Oates has been in sensational touch for the Broncos with his freakish ability to score tries in the corner, but his size and yard-making abilities will also be welcomed by the Maroons.
The last of the returning players is Melbourne workhorse Tim Glasby, who comes onto the bench as part of a new-look forward rotation.
Ultra-impressive Titans forward Jai Arrow and experienced Canberra star Josh Papalii have both been promoted to form Queensland’s new starting prop combination, with Jarrod Wallace and Coen Hess joining Glasby on the bench.
Powerhouse Dylan Napa has been named as Queensland’s 18th man after suffering a knee injury while playing for the Roosters.
Coach Kevin Walters said the desire for more senior leadership in the team had seen Cherry-Evans earn his recall ahead of other potential halfback like Ash Taylor.
“We picked him for a reason. We want to win Game Three,” Walters said.
“That’s the sole reason why we have selected the 17 that we have. That’s our first priority is to win Game Three and start building with another eye on the future as well.
“If DCE can have a good performance, there’s no reason he can’t be back here next year.
“He’s a great experienced player and I think given our situation at the moment, he’s a premiership winner, he’s played Origin football, he’s played Test football.
“In Games One and Two we just lacked a little bit of leadership in those positions. I think he provides certainly all of that.”
QLD GAME III: Billy Slater (c), Valentine Holmes, Dane Gagai, Will Chambers, Corey Oates, Cameron Munster, Daly Cherry-Evans, Jai Arrow, Andrew McCullough, Josh Papalii, Gavin Cooper, Felise Kaufusi, Josh McGuire. INTERCHANGE: Ben Hunt, Jarrod Wallace, Coen Hess, Tim Glasby. 18th man: Dylan Napa