What do you get when your fullback and centre injure themselves and are out for the season, your other centre retires and a few weeks earlier you suspended a myriad of players for not getting to bed on time?. Depth issues!.
Kevin Walters has't left himself the easiest job in his maiden campaign and although most of the team are locked in for their spots, it's the backline that has brought much debate. So let's play the analysis game and much like we did for NSW we should come out the other side with an Origin team.
Fullback - Contenders (Boyd, Inglis, Gagai, Barba)
This is a pretty simple one. Although Inglis by his own admission prefers the No 1. spot. QLD need him in the frontline. They are light on outside backs and Dugan will be there for NSW and we need a big body to combat him. In addition Boyd is the current Australian fullback and honestly in much better form than Inglis so he gets the spot. Gagai plays there for Newcastle but is needed either on the right centre or on the wing.
Wings and Centres- Contenders (Gagai, Oates, Feldt, Barba,Neilson)
I have put these positions together because the wing spots will be decided based on who the other centre is. For example with Inglis playing at left centre you could either pair him with Gagai on that side of the field and then if O'Neill forces his way into the right centre spot this might push Feldt into the side purely on combination. You mix that with Morgan who comes off the bench then you have Thurtson, Morgan, O'neill and Feldt (basically the premierships winning right hand side) as your Origin right hand side. It wouldn't be untoward. However what throws a spanner into those works is Oates. For my money he has almost certainly pushed his way into the side. Oates should play outside Inglis on the left. Inglis with a finisher of Oates ability outside him...mouth watering. So it's the right to be concerned with and does Gagai play on the wing or at right centre?. I have him at right centre. Purely for defensive ability. Which throws my Cowboys right side out of the window (what a shame!). So what does that do for the other wing spot? I think Feldt is still there. It just means he has a week with Gagai to come up with a combination. Where does that leave Barba? Well unfortunately for the little guy although he is almost back to his best he misses out. It's a long series though and if any of these backs don't perform Barba will be knocking on the door. Neilson has't really been anywhere for Souths and I don't think he has done enough to be there. He has long been Olds go to man in case of injury and will fill the same role this year.
If you want to play the innovation game and find a spot for Barba you go with Morgan in the centres and Barba off the bench. Morgan runs that wide line anyway. But I suspect in Walters first year he will go conservative and retain where he can. So that's where we are, Inglis, Gagai, Oates, Feldt.
Halves - Do we need to go there?...
Hooker - Read above...
Back Row, Lock and Second Row - Contenders (Cooper, Parker, McQueen, Thaiday, Guerra, Gillett, Papalii)
Like Daley this is where Walters is not short of talent. McQueen who has done a great job in the past probably finds himself on the block. Although playing great for the Titans look at the names above, it's more about how do you fit them all in. Let's start at the back with Parker 'Mr Red Wine' (who only get's better with age). For me he is so crucial up the middle, especially in offloads. You can't go past Gillett and Papalii. Gillett the talented ball player with a great step and Papalii is QLD's wrecking machine. This relegates Thaiday to and Guerra to the Bench. Copper gets talked about every year and he and Thurston are lethal on the left, however with the wealth of QLDs talent unfortunately I think as far as he can push is 18th man.
Props - Contenders (Mcguire, Scott, Myles, Lillyman, Shillington)
For Lillyman and Shillington, while they are in under-performing sides they just don't get enough support and exposure. Even though they always do a great job at rep level they might not make the cut for game 1 this year. Myles might find himself in the same position Lewis is in for NSW. With these young lions coming through and playing out of their skin age might have got Myles. Bench spots are also filling up and time will tell. I have him clinging on to the bench with Scott and Mcguire in the run on side. But if Walters goes for my Morgan/Barba experiment Myles will be all lost at sea.
So that's where we land. Lets look at the experimental squad first.
Interchange: Barba, Guerra, Thaiday, Cooper
Where we are more likely to end up:
Interchange: Morgan, Thaiday, Guerra, Myles. 18th man Cooper. 19th Lillyman
My bolter's as I have said are O'neill, Cooper and Barba. Who I haven't mentioned above is DCE. For cherry it will be a case of knuckling down waiting out the next couple of years and when Cronk and Thurston are gone, making sure he has the measure of Milford and Hunt. But we will have that debate in 2018.
For now, bring on Origin!.