QUEENSLAND coach Kevin Walters is determined to build another Johnathan Thurston-Cooper Cronk strikeforce, saying he is keen to retain Cameron Munster and Daly Cherry-Evans as his Maroons halves for the 2019 series.
Thurston and Cronk orchestrated the most successful dynasty in Origin history for Queensland, but their representative retirements last year has forced Walters to embark on a search for his next long-term scrumbase generals.
Walters road-tested Ben Hunt at halfback in the first two games of the 2018 campaign, but he was axed to the bench after presiding over consecutive defeats which saw Queensland relinquish the Origin shield for just the second time in 13 years.
Hunt’s demotion opened the door for Cherry-Evans, who produced a sizzling display to lead the Maroons to a face-saving victory in the Suncorp dead-rubber in his first Origin game in three years.
Cherry-Evans’ Game Three halves partner Munster has spoken of his desire for a positional move to succeed Billy Slater at fullback, but the Storm ace appears destined to remain in the coveted No.6 jumper.
Asked if he plans to keep faith in the Munster-Cherry-Evans alliance, Walters was unequivocal.
“There’s no doubt about that,” Walters said.
“Daly and Munster showed their worth in Game Three.
“I was really pleased for Daly, he worked really hard to get back to the Origin arena, and with Cameron, he doesn’t realise just how good he can be at representative level.
“He has been outstanding for us in the five-eighth role … I see Munster as a 10-year Origin player.”
Munster and Cherry-Evans showed touches of class in the Maroons’ 18-12 triumph to avert a 3-0 Blue Rinse last season.
Pivot Munster produced one of the best solo plays of the night, dancing through the NSW defence before releasing Cherry-Evans for the 58th-minute try that proved the match-winner.
Cherry-Evans is 29, while Munster celebrated his 24th birthday in September, meaning the duo are young enough to be Queensland’s scrumbase pairing, fitness and form permitting, for the next five years.
But Cowboys playmaker Michael Morgan will be keeping the pair honest.
Originally slated as Queensland’s No.6 last year, Morgan suffered an injury-riddled 2018 season that ended prematurely with a torn bicep, giving Munster and Cherry-Evans the chance to combine in Maroon.
Morgan will return fully fit this season eyeing an Origin renaissance, but if Cherry-Evans and Munster hold their form, Walters will pick and stick.
Walters accepts the entire Maroons organisation is under pressure to hit back after last year’s failure.
The Maroons’ revenge mission will be made even more onerous by the retirement of champion fullback Slater and tryscoring machine Valentine Holmes’ shock decision to quit the NRL in his dream to make it big in American Football.
But Walters is confident in Queensland’s next generation of young guns, insisting the blooding of Kalyn Ponga and Jai Arrow last year can assist Cherry-Evans and Munster in the Maroons’ planned fightback.
“I’m pretty excited with the group we’ve got now,” he said.
“With our guys getting a bit of experience with three games last year, I’m sure we’re going to be a better team.
“We didn’t miss last year’s series by much and we lost a wealth of experience we relied so heavily on.
“I think we’ve got the right mix of players to do well and win the series.
“We didn’t get it right last year, so it’s important the players learn from it and get things right this year.”