Ryan Papenhuyzen and Cameron McInnes are set to be among the new faces in the NSW squad for November’s State of Origin series, while Queensland are likely to bolster their forward stocks with the inclusion of Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Pat Carrigan and Lindsay Collins.
Zac Lomax, Kotoni Staggs and Campbell Graham are vying for a centre position in the extended Blues squad, while Cody Walker is again in contention for a back-up playmaker role, along with Mitchell Moses and Mitchell Pearce, and prop Junior Paulo and hooker Api Koroisau could be other newcomers.
For Queensland, boom hooker Harry Grant is under consideration, along with veteran Jake Friend, utility back AJ Brimson and the versatile Kurt Capewell.
Officials are still determining the size of the squads each state will announce after the NRL grand final, with debate over whether 25 players is sufficient or if 27 is needed to cover the demands of the most intense Origin series in the concept’s 40-year history.
Scheduled at the end of the season for the first time, Origin will be played with the NRL’s new six-again and captain’s challenge rules under the control of a single referee and players will have just one week between each match to recover.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Blues and Maroons will be required to remain in bio-security bubbles for the duration of the three-match series and it is expected that they will only travel to Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane a day or two before each of the games on November 4, 11 and 18.
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Players will have little time to acclimatise to conditions for the matches and replacements cannot be called in from outside each squad to cover for injuries or suspensions.
As a result, rival coaches Brad Fittler (NSW) and Kevin Walters (Queensland) are preparing for the series like a Kangaroo tour and will need to consider the balance of their squads to cover for virtually any scenario.
If the size of each squad is limited to 25 players, it is expected that they would select eight outside backs, five halves and hookers, eight middle forwards and four edge back-rowers, with an emphasis on players who are able to fill more than one role.
The additional two players would likely include a utility and another middle forward, as up to six will be needed for each match.
Papenhuyzen is the Melbourne fullback but he was used mostly from the bench as an impact player last season, while McInnes is regarded as one of the best hookers in the NRL but has been playing lock for St George Illawarra for most of this season.
Both could find themselves on the NSW interchange due to their versatility, with Storm coach Craig Bellamy playing Papenhuyzen in the middle during the 13 matches he played from the bench before establishing himself as the team’s first-choice fullback three rounds before last year’s finals series.
After losing the last two Origin series, Queensland are seeking an injection of new talent and Fa’asuamaleaui, Carrigan and Collins are among the best young forwards in the game.
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Fittler and Walters are expected to begin selecting players for Origin train-on squads after the final round of the regular season in three weeks and as each team is eliminated from the play-offs.
As with end-of-season Kangaroos selection, the deeper a team goes into the finals the better the prospects of players from that club being chosen and a bolter often emerges from the grand final.
There are concerns that some players may not want to spend another five weeks in an Origin bubble after living under the NRL’s strict bio-security restrictions for up to six months but the likes of Manly star Tom Trbojevic could be refreshed after missing much of the season with a hamstring injury.
While the series goes for three weeks, players joining each bubble will need to isolate for two weeks and Papenhuyzen, Fa’asuamaleaui and Storm team-mates Cameron Munster, Josh Addo-Carr, Felise Kaufusi, Dale Finucane and Christian Welch may not be able to return to Melbourne before Origin.
The Blues are considering basing themselves on the Central Coast for the duration of the series, while the Maroons would set up camp in Queensland.
With the intensity of Origin estimated to be 15 per cent higher than normal NRL matches, confirmation that the six-again rule would be used during the series is likely to result in unprecedented speed and fatigue.
Selecting the Origin squads will take on even more significance as Fittler and Walters need to prepare for the possibility of high injury tolls and choose players to cover any scenario.
If available, James Tedesco, Blake Ferguson, Trbojevic, Jack Wighton and Addo-Carr are again expected to be the first outside backs chosen for NSW after helping the Blues to a series win last year.
Trbojevic has not played for 12 weeks but could make his return in Manly’s round 19 match against Gold Coast, while Ferguson scored his first try of the season for Parramatta last Sunday and is a favourite of Fittler’s because of his ability to carry the ball from his own end of the field.
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This is likely to put him ahead of in-form Wests Tigers winger David Nofoaluma, who is the NRL’s leading tryscorer (17 tries), with the versatility and previous Origin experience of Canberra’s Nick Cotric likely to give him the nod as another wing option.
Fittler has regularly praised Lomax as one of the best young centres this season and he is also one of the NRL’s leading goal-kickers, while Eels captain Clint Gutherson can play fullback, centre, wing or five-eighth if needed.
For the Maroons, the return of Valentine Holmes from the NFL offsets the loss of Will Chambers and the North Queensland star is likely to play on the wing, with Dane Gagai shifting to the centres.
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Newcastle’s Kalyn Ponga is expected to be Queensland’s first-choice fullback but Walters has a number of options, including Holmes, Wests Tigers captain Moses Mbye and Cowboys utility Michael Morgan.
Gold Coast utility AJ Brimson can play fullback, centre or five-eighth, while Penrith’s Kurt Capewell offers cover at second-row or centre – positions where the Maroons have the least depth.
Halves and hookers
Walker is in contention for the NSW five-eighth role after being dropped in the wake of last year’s series-opening loss but there is little doubt the first-choice Blues halves pairing will be Penrith’s Nathan Cleary and Roosters star Luke Keary.
Pearce played in last year’s final match, while Moses can force his way into the Blues squad with a strong finals series for the Eels.
After once being spoilt for choice in the halves, Queensland’s stocks are now relatively low and Walters would be forced to consider shifting Ben Hunt from hooker if Daly Cherry-Evans was injured.
Munster is the first-choice five-eighth but Morgan and Brimson are options if he was unavailable.
Besides Hunt, the Maroons dummy-half options include Sydney Roosters veteran Jake Friend, highly rated Tigers rookie Harry Grant and Parramatta’s Reed Mahoney.
South Sydney’s Damian Cook is the incumbent NSW hooker but he faces a challenge for his spot from Penrith’s Koroisau, while McInnes could fill the role of injured Sydney Roosters forward Victor Radley, who played in the middle but was also back-up dummy-half.
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Both teams are spoiled for choice with middle forwards but they are likely to suffer the highest rate of injury and fatigue in an Origin series where the matches are played at a frantic pace and players have limited recovery time.
It is estimated that at least eight middle forwards may be needed for the series.
Of the incumbent NSW forwards, St George Illawarra prop Paul Vaughan is the player whose position appears most at threat given the form of Parramatta’s Junior Paulo and Reagan Campbell-Gillard, while Penrith captain James Tamou is pressing for a recall.
Newcastle pair David Klemmer and Daniel Saifiti were the starting props last season, while Jake Trbojevic is a certain selection at lock and South Sydney’s Cameron Murray and Dale Finucane were also in the 2019 team.
Brisbane prop Payne Haas has been one of the shining lights in a disappointing season for the Broncos and is expected to be in the squad.
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The Maroons also have no shortage of big men in good form, headed by Canberra prop Josh Papalii, Welch, Fa’asuamaleaui, Carrigan – the Broncos lock and co-captain – and Collins, who is now an established member of the Roosters' top 17.
Cowboys lock Josh McGuire is a certain selection, while Gold Coast pair Jai Arrow and Jarrod Wallace should also be in the Queensland squad, along with Brisbane’s Joe Ofahengaue.
Canberra firebrand Corey Horsburgh will come under strong consideration if he is fit.
Kaufusi, Broncos star David Fifita and Rabbitohs second-rower Jaydn Su’a are others likely to be in the Maroons squad.
Roosters captain Boyd Cordner, St George Illawarra star Tyson Frizell and Cronullla skipper Wade Graham are established as NSW’s first-choice edge back-rowers, while Parramatta’s Ryan Matterson was a member of the extended Blues squad last season.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.