Kevin Walters has revealed how the lessons from last year’s shocking State of Origin I defeat to NSW in Brisbane shaped Queensland’s team for the 2018 opener.
The Maroons’ squad for next month’s MCG clash was announced on Monday, sans Darius Boyd and Matt Scott.
Boyd, injured for Origin III last year, and Scott, who missed the entire series with an ACL injury, were not recalled despite Greg Inglis’s immediate return from his own ACL injury that shut down his 2017 season.
“It’s very difficult. Scotty’s been a great player for Queensland in his 22 appearances,” Walters said on Monday.
“That’s the worst part of my job – ringing those players and informing them that they’re not in the team.”
“It’s very disappointing for them not to be playing. Certainly for Scotty, he’s playing some good football for the Cowboys but we just felt it’s in the best interests of the team for game one to go without him.”
Already with a much-changed team from the Maroons’ usual outfits following the retirements of Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith, Walters was desperate to avoid taking the wrong risks.
Last year Queensland opted against bringing Billy Slater back so soon after his return from shoulder injuries, while Thurston failed in his race to be fit.
The selectors backed in veterans Justin O’Neill, Nate Myles, Sam Thaiday and Jacob Lillyman, but the Blues whacked the home side for a 28-4 win.
Those four players were dumped for debutants Valentine Holmes, Jarrod Wallace, Coen Hess and Tim Glasby, while Slater, Thurston and Gavin Cooper returned for Origin II and Darius Boyd was moved to the centres.
Queensland promptly won to send the series to a deciding game but there was more change to come as Cameron Munster debuted in place of an injured Thurston, Michael Morgan played centre for an injured Boyd and Ben Hunt won his first cap as a utility off the bench.
Holmes scored three tries and the Maroons won 22-6 to win their 11th series in 12 years.
“We’ve always, as selectors, had Queensland’s interests at heart,” Walters said.
“Last year for game one we picked a side that we thought would be the best team for Queensland. As it worked out, it possibly wasn’t, and that’s what we’ve gone with this year.
“We’ve gone with what we believe is the best team that Queensland can produce on the night and unfortunately there has been some players who have been left out but again, as tough as it is, we’re trying to do the right thing by the state and what we feel for the team.”
Walters promised Scott that his Origin career was not over, revealing a recent knock to his knee – one he has admirably played through for the Cowboys – counted against him.
“I think that was the real one for us,” he said.
“Matty needs to, for mine, play a bit more football yet. I said to him yesterday by no means is he out of the picture at Origin level.
“We think he can contribute to the series, he’s just got to get his leg right and then we’ll reassess the situation.”
The coach hit back at suggestions the Maroons were not being loyal by refusing to recall Boyd.
The Broncos veteran missed out because another player stepped up in the big moment.
“Valentine Holmes scored three tries in game three of last year. People say ‘oh, you’re not being loyal to Queensland’,” Walters said.
“Well we are being loyal to Queensland, being loyal to those players who did the job in game three last year.
“Valentine, some of the tries he scored in last year’s game still stay with me. He’s done a great job for Queensland … not that Darius hasn’t, but just at the moment we feel that he’s the best option for us on the left wing.”