Queensland are going “Hammer and Ponga” for the third State of Origin game, with Maroons coach Paul Green revamping his team as his battered troops rally to save pride from a disappointing campaign.
Electric Cowboys centre Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow has been called in to make his Origin debut, while fullbacks Kalyn Ponga and AJ Brimson also return from injury in a three-pronged injection of attacking spark the Maroons will need to keep a Blues clean-sweep at bay.
This Queensland team is undoubtedly the best-balanced of the series, with the inclusion of Tabuai-Fidow in the backline seeing Kurt Capwell moved from the centres and into his preferred backrow position alongside Felise Kaufusi.
Jai Arrow, who was in the second row for Game 2 at Suncorp Stadium, returns to his more familiar No.13 jersey, with Val Holmes moving to the wing to make way for Ponga at fullback.
Gamebreaker Brimson rejoins the Maroons in the No.14 jersey after impressing in his return from injury for the Gold Coast against Canberra, completing an all-Titans bench alongside powerhouses Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Moeaki Fotuaika and David Fifita.
Francis Molo drops out of the 17 to become 18th man, but he will be called upon if Fifita is rubbed out by the NRL judiciary for a late shot on Canberra halfback Sam Williams.
Green has continued to plan for the future with the inclusion of Tabuai-Fidow, who will join the FOGS family at just 19 years of age when he takes on the Blues in Game 3.
While fellow young gun Reece Walsh was cruelly denied his Origin debut in Game 2 because of a hamstring injury, Green has also added two more fresh faces to the extended squad for the final game of the series.
Newcastle utility Kurt Mann and Broncos prop Thomas Flegler have also been included, giving them valuable experience of life inside the Queensland camp and giving the Maroons much-needed cover if another emergency arises.
Queensland has struggled for points in the first two games of the series, coming up with a total of just six points after 160 minutes of football. But the inclusion of Tabuai-Fidow, Ponga and Brimson will rectify that situation.
More importantly, Queensland’s spine now looks far more potent with Ponga in the No.1 jersey, with skipper Daly Cherry Evans at halfback, Cameron Munster at No.6 and the other surprise selection of Ben Hunt at hooker.
Hunt’s elevation to the starting No.9 role could be the most telling of all, with the Dragons playmaker in fine form at club level, and bringing a long list of assets to the dummy-half role.
Aside from his wealth of Origin experience, Hunt’s selection at No.9 gives Queensland more attacking and kicking options, as well as more game management skills in the middle of the field.
QUEENSLAND ORIGIN 3: Kalyn Ponga, Valentine Holmes, Dane Gagai, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Xavier Coates, Cameron Munster, Daly Cherry-Evans (c), Christian Welch, Ben Hunt, Josh Papalii, Kurt Capewell, Felise Kaufusi, Jai Arrow. INTERCHANGE: AJ Brimson, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Moeaki Fotuaika, David Fifita. RESERVES: Francis Molo, Kurt Mann, Thomas Flegler.