With a little more than a week until teams are named for the Holden State of Origin series opener and Queensland hit by injury and retirements, NRL.com Stats analyses the contenders in the outside backs.
Candidates: Corey Oates, Nene Macdonald, Valentine Holmes Darius Boyd
Possibly the most hotly contested spot in the Maroons side with a number of genuine standouts vying for one spot. With Greg Inglis set to return at left centre after missing last year injured, the temptation to rekindle his partnership with long-time left-edge partner Darius Boyd will be overwhelming. They are one and two on the all-time Origin try-scoring list and while Boyd hasn’t been in peak form (in part due to ongoing hamstring niggles) he has never let down Queensland or Australia. Boyd’s biggest weakness is taking the tough carries early in sets where the younger legs and bigger bodies of his rivals have a distinct advantage.
Holmes has also been well down on form, although his match-winning round-10 effort for Cronulla against the Raiders from fullback was easily his best so he is reaching his peak and finding confidence at the right time. A squad that suddenly finds itself potentially without a recognised goal-kicker could use him as an option as well, even though he lost the shoot-out with teammate Chad Townsend to take the role at club level and he hasn’t taken a shot this year. Holmes is also a right-wing candidate if injury or suspension hit.
Oates has been a key man for the Broncos, one of their more consistent players, and would be hard done by to miss out on the 17. As someone who can also do a job in the back row he remains a chance of a bench spot but as the biggest body and strongest kick returner of the available candidates, he will be hard to overlook.
Macdonald, realistically, will not be there unless there is a late flurry of injuries but the Gold Coast product is having a career year and has emerged as one of the best finishers in the Telstra Premiership as well as one of the biggest metre-eating wingers in 2018 at the table-topping Dragons.
NRL.com verdict: Valentine Holmes
Candidates: Greg Inglis, Darius Boyd
Inglis was very short odds of an Origin return even before Cameron Smith’s stunning retirement announcement but the Indigenous role model is now likely to be Queensland captain. Fans across rugby league – even Blues fans – have been heartened to see the Rabbitohs legend bag a few meat pies after missing virtually all of last year injured but it’s still fair to say he hasn’t been at his all-conquering best. Still, Inglis in OK form is basically a shoo-in for Origin.
Boyd gets a second bite at the cherry here after playing well in his one game at centre for Queensland last year. Likely bench utility Michael Morgan is the other name in the mix if anything happens to Inglis before June 6, given the Maroons are short on genuine specialist centre options. The names on the next rung down include Ben Hampton, Dale Copley, Brenko Lee, Hymel Hunt, Brian Kelly, Tom Opacic and Javid Bowen.
NRL.com verdict: Greg Inglis
Candidates: Will Chambers, Justin O’Neill
Chambers is the surest of sure things at right centre. The Storm and Kangaroos centre’s 18 busts and two tries in eight matches is a fairly light return for a player of his calibre but that won’t concern the selectors in the slightest.
Other than the above-mentioned back-up candidates the other right-side centre with Origin experience is Cowboy Justin O’Neill but it’s probably fair to say his form would not warrant selection outside of an emergency. It is more likely right winger Dane Gagai would move in one spot and one of the non-selected left wingers – probably Holmes – would be asked to do a job on the opposite side.
NRL.com verdict: Will Chambers
Candidates: Dane Gagai, Kyle Feldt
A man of the series award last year should surely be enough to see Gagai retained on the Maroons’ right flank. Unforeseen injuries or suspensions could potentially mean he gets shuffled into the centres, otherwise he will line up in his familiar spot on the right flank. He has played most of this season at right centre for the Rabbitohs and while he has seemed quieter than last year with just the one try, his 37 busts in 10 games is third among regular centres.
Cowboy Kyle Feldt is a specialist right edge flanker and wonderful finisher and part-time goal-kicker who has been spoken of in Origin terms on occasion but as mentioned above, the back-up candidates for the right wing spot will likely come from whichever left-edge wingers don’t earn the spot on the other flank.
NRL.com verdict: Dane Gagai
Witness Australia’s greatest sporting rivalry when Origin comes to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday, June 6. Tickets available at NRL.com/tickets.