Queensland has forgone almost 50 games of State of Origin experience after axing two Maroons legends for the opening game at the MCG on June 6.
The changing of the guard is accentuated by coach Kevin Walters’ decision to opt against selecting veterans Matt Scott and Darius Boyd, who have played 49 games for the Maroons between them.
That means exactly 101 games of Origin experience have vacated the Maroons following the retirements of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston, with St George Illawarra’s Ben Hunt the biggest winner from Monday’s squad announcement.
Greg Inglis has been confirmed as Queensland’s new captain, following Cameron Smith’s shock retirement.
The Rabbitohs star will lead a vastly different Maroons team, with Hunt handed his first start in the No.7 jersey and Andrew McCullough taking over at hooker.
McCullough is one of three debutants picked, along with second-rower Felise Kaufusi and bench forward Jai Arrow.
But it could be the end of the road for long-term servants Boyd and Scott, although Walters said the door wasn’t totally shut on either of them.
Chief selector Gene Miles said the scintillating form of Valentine Holmes couldn’t be ignored, despite his selection on the wing breaking up the potent left-side combination of Inglis and Boyd.
Walters said Scott was in the frame until he injured his left knee last week – the opposite knee to the one in which he tore his ACL last year.
“Matty needs to play a bit more football yet,” he said.
“Re-injuring himself again just a week ago, that was the real one for us.”
But Walters believed their new-look outfit was the right Maroons mix to extend their dominance after winning 11 of the past 12 series.
“I am excited for those players and what they can do now. It’s their Maroon jumper – what are they going to do with it?” Walters said.
McCullough will attempt to fill the big shoes left by Smith, Kaufusi is in the starting back-row for Matt Gillett (neck) and Gold Coast’s Arrow is on the bench.
Inglis – a veteran of 30 Origins – takes over as skipper after Smith’s shock representative retirement.
“I think he will be an inspirational leader,” Walters said.
St George Illawarra’s Ben Hunt earned his first start at No.7, combining with Melbourne’s incumbent Maroons pivot Cameron Munster.
While the Cowboys’ poor NRL form went against Scott, Walters said he had no problem sticking with fellow North Queensland players Michael Morgan, Coen Hess and Gavin Cooper.
Test half Morgan has been relegated to the bench utility role ahead of Newcastle’s Kalyn Ponga, Cooper was retained in the starting back-row and Hess is again on the interchange.
Walters said he wasn’t worried about fitness concerns for Billy Slater (hamstring), Hunt (thigh) and lock Josh McGuire (ankle).
Remarkably Brisbane’s McGuire was retained despite missing the past five rounds in the NRL.
Walters admitted he was “concerned” about the lack of a clear first-choice goal-kicker in the absence of Smith, but said Holmes, Hunt and Munster were all capable replacements.
Meanwhile, Blues captain James Maloney looks set to be just one of six to survive the axe for NSW.
James Tedesco and James Maloney will be the only old faces in a new-look backline, that will include Nathan Cleary at halfback, Tom Trbojevic and Josh Addo-Carr on the wings and James Roberts and Latrell Mitchell in the centres.
David Klemmer and Jake Trbojevic (bench) are the others likely to survive from the forwards, which will include three Dragons in Tyson Frizell, Jack de Belin and Paul Vaughan (bench).
According to a final 17 leaked to News Corp Australia on Sunday night, South Sydney’s Angus Crichton has won out in the battle for the final bench spot ahead of Tariq Sims while Damien Cook will start at hooker.
Tyrone Peachey will also be a bench interchange, after he was preferred ahead of Dragons hooker Cameron McInnes.
The NSW team will be officially unveiled at 6:45pm on Monday night.
Maroons side for Origin I (1-17):
Billy Slater, Valentine Holmes, Greg Inglis (c), Will Chambers, Dane Gagai, Cameron Munster, Ben Hunt, Dylan Napa, Andrew McCullough, Jarrod Wallace, Gavin Cooper, Felise Kaufusi, Josh McGuire, Michael Morgan, Coen Hess, Josh Papalii, Jai Arrow
Likely Blues team for Origin I (1-17):
James Tedesco, Josh Addo-Carr, Latrell Mitchell, James Roberts, Tom Trbojevic, James Maloney, Nathan Cleary, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Damien Cook, David Klemmer, Boyd Cordner (c), Tyson Frizell, Jack de Belin, Tyrone Peachey, Jake Trbojevic, Paul Vaughan, Angus Crichton