Darren Lockyer in major Blues admission amid Origin backlash around Selwyn Cobbo

Lockyer says Queensland's selection of Cobbo is in part due to the prominence of HIAs.

Queensland great Darren Lockyer has labelled Billy Slater's decision to select Selwyn Cobbo on the bench for the State of Origin opener a game-changer and believes the Blues' decision to not select a bench utility is a mistake. In one of the most surprising calls of his Queensland coaching career to date, Slater selected the Brisbane livewire off the bench as a ready-made option to play at centre, wing or fullback.

The Broncos centre may have been unable to force his way back into the starting side after missing Game III last year but the prospect of him running at tired Blues defenders is one that has Queensland fans salivating. The 21-year-old is one of the most explosive and powerful outside backs in the competition but missed out on a starting role as both Murray Taulagi and Valentine Holmes kept their spot in the line-up.

Pictured left Darren Lockyer and right Selwyn Cobbo
Darren Lockyer says Billy Slater's selection of Selwyn Cobbo is a game-changer and one done due to the prominence of HIAs. Image: Getty

The likes of Queensland legend Paul Vautin have criticised the decision to select Cobbo on the bench, stating the Maroons are a 'forward short' for Game I. But explaining the curious decision to select Cobbo on the bench on Monday night, Slater said the centre is the perfect cover if any of his backs go down injured. Cobbo's form in clubland was also just too hard for Slater to resist, with the Brisbane star scoring five tries in 11 and making 10 linebreaks in his 11 NRL appearances this season.

“Four of our last six games we have had to replace an outside back, so that’s the first reason,” Slater said on NRL 360. “The second reason is that Selwyn Cobbo is a wonderful player, we’ve seen him play in multiple positions. Wing, centre and fullback for the Broncos. He’s just one of those players that you want out on the field.


"We will build a bit of a plan for how to inject him into the game if he’s not needed in the outside backs. Queensland’s been accustomed to doing that over the years. We will work out what’s best for the team and Selwyn.”

And Lockyer believes Slater is ahead of the curve with his ingenious selection decision, stating that not only does it provide a serious impact player off the bench but with the increasing prevalence of injuries, in particular head knocks in the modern game, a back on the bench is almost a must nowadays.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 17: Selwyn Cobbo of the Broncos evades the tackle of Tolutau Koula of the Sea Eagles during the round 11 NRL match between Manly Sea Eagles and Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium, on May 17, 2024, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)
Selwyn Cobbo's form in clubland was just too hard for Billy Slater to resist, with the Brisbane star scoring five tries in 11 and making 10 linebreaks in his 11 NRL appearances this season.

"Teams have been caught out and I think it was Damien Cook last year who had to defend in the centres [for NSW]," he said on Wide World of Sports' QLDER earlier this week. "If you don't have a player on the bench or in your starting team that can move to the centres and cover that position really well, you can be exposed.

"There's the option of [Jeremiah] Nanai or [Jaydn] Su'A playing in the centres, but that's a fair increase in responsibility for those types of players. I think having Selwyn there is to cover that."

In comparison, NSW will go into the game with another strategy entirely, naming four forwards on their bench. When Tom Trbojevic went down injured in the early stages of Origin II last year and Damien Cook had to play centre, it showed having a versatile player on the bench who can fill multiple positions in the back line is incredibly beneficial.

However, with no genuine utility option to turn to if a back is forced off the field for Game I, players such as Angus Crichton or Hudson Young would likely shift into an outside back role. The only other option is if Michael Maguire pulls a late switch and elevates Matt Burton into the 17.