Returning coach Wayne Bennett has a mighty job in front of him negating a powerful Blues backline with what will be a radically new-look Queensland line-up.
Injuries, suspensions and retirements have cut a swathe through the list of Maroons-eligible backs for the State of Origin series opener.
With Greg Inglis and Darius Boyd retired, Will Chambers gone to rugby, Michael Morgan, Kyle Feldt, Corey Oates and Moses Mbye out injured and Valentine Holmes suspended for game one, it will require some creative thinking to get the team ready for the November 4 clash.
Other available players not listed below who are not in the preliminary squad include Corey Thompson, Kurt Mann, Enari Tuala, Justin O'Neill and Tom Opacic.
Maroons backs candidates
Candidates: Edrick Lee, Ronaldo Mulitalo, Phillip Sami
One position where there are definitely some promising Origin rookies pressing for inclusion is the left wing slot, with two candidates in Wayne Bennett's initial 15-man squad from teams that have been knocked out so far in Lee and Sami.
Lee has been in the extended Maroons squad previously and this year, either side of a long layoff with a broken arm, has been one of Newcastle's more consistent and dangerous players. His kick defusal rate could be better but his error and try cause count is very low with his attacking stats solid while his height makes him a threat in the air.
Sami is a serious speedster and has versatility on his side, with games at centre and fullback on his resume. He is safe under a high ball, can bust a tackle useful coming out of yardage.
Young Shark Mulitalo did not make the preliminary 15-man squad but is worth keeping an eye on after a breakout season. He has more tries and busts than any of currently listed the Queensland wing candidates. However he also has the most errors and his edge defensively could be tighter but at 190cm he is almost as tall as Lee which could be useful. At this stage he will require further injuries to get into the extended squad.
NRL.com verdict: Lee
Candidates: Dane Gagai, AJ Brimson
Gagai is a former Wally Lewis medallist playing on the right wing but the budding options on the flanks and a dearth of centres means he will almost certainly be required at centre. We have included him at left centre where he has been playing well at club level, although he has spent more of his overall career on the right wing and at right centre.
Gagai is enjoying the best try-scoring season of his club career to date (although most of his 10 tries in 17 games have come on the wing) with plenty of metres and busts while his defence has been mostly steady.
Brimson has been spoken about as a centre option and is very short odds to be in the 17 somewhere for game one, though with an injury cloud hanging over Kalyn Ponga, the Titans custodian is shortening dramatically to be wearing the Maroon No.1 rather than shoe-horning into the three-quarter line. Wherever he plays, his scintillating running game will make him a focal point for Wayne Bennett's team.
NRL.com verdict: Gagai
Candidates: Brenko Lee, Hymel Hunt
Storm centre Brenko Lee, cousin of Newcastle wing hopeful Edrick, has been talked down as an option in the past due to his supposedly flimsy defence but under the watchful eye of Craig Bellamy, Lee boasts the best defensive numbers of any of the likely candidates with an effective tackle percentage over 90 and a passable 11 try causes.
His attack hasn't exactly flourished this year, with quiet numbers in terms of metres and assists but as a specialist right side centre with much-improved defence he will come into consideration.
Hunt has had an excellent and underrated two seasons at Newcastle where he is one of the few players who can boast consistently reliable performances. Traditionally a centre, Hunt has been used almost exclusively on the wing in 2020 but will likely be considered for both roles given Queensland's backline woes.
He has had no assists on the wing but eight tries and 143 metres per game is a solid return and his strong running game will be an asset whether it is at centre or wing.
Whoever lines up at right centre will depend in large part which other players are picked with a view to team balance and it's a coin flip between the two at this stage.
NRL.com verdict: Hunt
Candidates: Corey Allan, Hymel Hunt, Xavier Coates
It's possible both left-wing options Edrick Lee and Phillip Sami get picked and one has to switch to the right, which is more likely if Hunt gets used at centre, although Brisbane youngster Coates has played under-20s Origin and is dangerous in attack while Allan has had an incredible run at fullback since the injury to Latrell Mitchell.
Hunt is the most logical option here if he doesn't play centre, with strong carries and reliable finishing boosting his claims.
Coates has been included in the squad which makes him a genuine chance of debuting at some stage in the series. As a young player he has had some very quiet games when he hasn't had many attacking chances, with carries out of the back field not his strong suit at this stage of his career. He is very dangerous in the air but how many chances Queensland will have to exploit that is another question. Twenty errors in 12 games is also a worry.
There is no guarantee Allan will even end up in the squad but Bennett coaches him week to week at club level and knows how talented he is. His ball-playing at fullback has been critical to the Bunnies' recent form surge and his ball-running has come a long way over the past year or two. A big body, he has played wing and fullback at NRL level and could likely handle centre if asked.
NRL.com verdict: Allan
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