Super Friday shapes up as ultimate Origin audition
Daly Cherry-Evans, Matt Gillett and Corey Parker will all be auditioning for Origin spots tomorrow night. Photo: Getty Images
Super Friday at Suncorp Stadium shapes as a mass State of Origin audition on both sides of the border, with the final blueprint of the Queensland and New South Wales squads destined to be influenced by the NRL double-header in Brisbane.
Aside from the ladder implications of back-to-back games between Brisbane and Manly-Warringah and Canterbury-Bankstown and the Titans, it's a buffet for Origin selectors with 18 potentials on show, split right down the middle with nine from each state enjoying genuine claims.
With NSW naming their team on Sunday night and Queensland on Monday, it's the final opportunity for players to make a compelling case for selection or edge ahead in the 50-50 calls.
NSW has any number of questions to answer about its squad for game one in Melbourne, while Queensland selectors are yet to decide on how they split their bench, given most of the starting side is already under lock and key.
Of particular interest for the Queenslanders will be the face-off between Brisbane's impressive forward Matt Gillett and Manly playmaker Daly Cherry-Evans, the two wonderkids contending for an interchange jumper made vacant by starting halfback Cooper Cronk.
But Corey Parker, Brisbane's classy lock, turned in three games of high quality off the Queensland bench last series and is unlikely to be easily discarded.
Manly and the Bulldogs carry the bulk of the NSW candidates, with Greg Bird hoping a strong hand in a much-needed win for the Titans could force the issue in his case.
Queensland's chairman of selectors, Des Morris, said the Queensland bench remained to be finalised and Friday night could provide some clarity as they agonise over the final pieces of the puzzle.
"We certainly haven't finalised our squad yet. While we've been fairly stable over the last couple of years, with Darren (Lockyer) being retired, Jharal (yow Yeh) injured and some of the guys' form being exceptional, there's still a few decision to be made after this weekend," Morris said.
"There's obviously going to be some very good players that don't make it this year, or this first game. It obviously depends on injuries but we are undecided about our bench at this stage. That's something we'll be looking closely at on Friday night."
Origin selectors don't pick sides on single games, but Morris said final impressions would count when the team is chiselled in stone with fellow selectors Gene Miles and Allan Smith and coach Mal Meninga.
"Your last memory is your best memory. There's not much between a lot of the players. If someone has done something exceptional, or played exceptionally well, that will probably have a bit of an influence on what we do when we sit down to talk about it," Morris said.
For NSW, Manly's Brett Stewart, David Williams, Anthony Watmough, Jamie Buhrer and Glenn Stewart all have agendas to advance, while Bulldogs Josh Morris, Michael Ennis and Josh Reynolds can all fire some final parting shots in what appears to be a close race for NSW jumpers.
Brisbane has Justin Hodges, Ben Hannant, Petero Civoniceva, Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker and Gillett as their Origin candidates, with Nate Myles and Ashley Harrison the likely Maroons from the Titans camp.
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Gillett v Cherry-Evans v Parker
Two of these players could end up on the Queensland bench but with Ben Hannant, Dave Taylor and David Shillington all having the edge in experience and in impressive form, it's likely three must go into one.
Gillett has been dynamic off the Brisbane bench this season, combining brutal front-on defence with silken attacking skills on the fringes. Cherry-Evans has grand final experience and was picked on the bench for the Trans-Tasman Test, even if that's as close as he got to the action. He provides ample cover throughout the backline.
The cool kids are the edgier options for Queensland but it's the less-fashionable Parker they must dislodge, particularly if Queensland wants to carry two back-up props in Hannant and Shillington. Taylor's form makes him a certainty.
"They are both very talented young players," Morris said of Gillett and Cherry-Evans. "You'd like to include them if you could.”
And the counter-argument for Parker: “But there are other players who have earned their spot over a couple of years."
The Sea Eagle who isn't: One Manly player being mentioned in dispatches for the Blues is Tony Williams, the destructive ball-runner who could be picked without playing a game in almost two months. Williams was suspended for seven weeks for a dangerous throw but has been mentioned as a possible bolter. He's been doing trackwork but would surely be short of a gallop.
Super Friday probables for NSW: Anthony Watmough, Glenn Stewart, Brett Stewart, Greg Bird. Possibles: Josh Morris, Michael Ennis, Josh Reynolds, Jamie Buhrer, David Williams.
Super Friday probables for Queensland: Justin Hodges, Ben Hannant, Petero Civoniceva, Sam Thaiday, Nate Myles, Ashley Harrison. Possibles: Matt Gillett, Corey Parker, Daly Cherry-Evans.
Talent smorgasbord or recipe for disaster? In theory, having 18 Origin candidates playing within hours of each other on the one field is an ideal scenario for selectors and fans. In reality, this train could derail in a hurry if some key combatants find themselves on the injured list or in trouble with officials. Strange things have a habit of happening the week before Origins (Free JT!) so don't expect this tale to conclude without a few twists.