As Queensland captain Darren Lockyer prepares for his last Origin game next week, discussions would have already begun about who will be the next Maroons five-eighth and leader for the 2012 State of Origin series.
Given the calibre of Lockyer’s predecessors as captain and/or five-eighth – such as Wally Lewis and Allan Langer – he leaves big shoes to fill both as Queensland skipper and the next six.
Current Queensland halfback Johnathan Thurston is a combination of all three of the Maroons’ “favourite sons” – he has the larrikin of Alf Langer; the great skills of Wally Lewis and Darren Lockyer; and he’s a likeable character and good footballer.
I know he has had a few issues at times – and I may be biased because I coached him at the Cowboys – but I love the way he plays.
And right now he is playing some of the best football of his career, leading the stats in a lot of areas and also the Dally M Medal count.
Switching Thurston from halfback to five-eighth would be the perfect solution for Queensland post-Lockyer. And moving him into the captain’s role would be an automatic transition.
Cameron Smith may be considered the favourite and I admire him a lot, but I haven’t worked with him. I have with JT.
Ideally when you move a player from one position to another you don’t want to weaken the team in one place to strengthen it in another. Moving Thurston to 6 and Cooper Cronk to 7 doesn’t weaken Thurston or Queensland.
As Cowboys halfback now, Thurston plays more of a second receiver role. He doesn’t have to be the brave warrior every time. When you’re aged 18-21 you are bullet-proof – but then it comes time to take a step back.
If you look back at Darren Lockyer’s recent game against St George Illawarra, he didn’t do a hell of a lot but what he did was perfect. JT can do those impact things now … he has learnt from the master.
The switch is also likely to extend his career … he doesn’t have to be at the coal face or feel responsible for taking it to the line all the time. He could be more of a person who organises the outside backs.
Thurston started his first-grade career with the Bulldogs at five-eighth and played in that role when he first started at the Cowboys six years ago.
He loved it. The winds have changed and the time is right for him to switch back for Queensland.
Lockyer is up there with the best ever to play the game, so Queensland are going to need to be very cautious in their preparation for the Origin decider on Wednesday at Suncorp Stadium.
The veteran won’t want any fanfare but the media will provide it anyway.
Everyone will be caught up in the emotion of the occasion, almost to a point of hysteria, so coach Mal Meninga and his staff will have a big job controlling and managing that.
Likewise, Blues coach Ricky Stuart and his coaching staff also have a big job ahead of them. Players feed off the men in charge and they will need to be upbeat at every session, every meeting.
The Blues have a massive challenge ahead – injuries, the lateness of St George Illawarra-Manly game (which featured eight of 20-man NSW squad), and being away in Brisbane are all obstacles they will need to overcome.
It is one of the biggest mountains Ricky and the team could climb … but the bigger the challenge the sweeter the victory.
They need to have a good start; they don’t have to score early on, just be consistent. If it is like Game One and Queensland have all the ball NSW will be in trouble.
I still think we are a big chance at 1-1, but you would want to know the starting line-up by today (Friday), before they break camp.
You don’t want another distraction when you come back into camp on Saturday. They should be straight into it on Sunday.
I would give Keith Galloway a chance if there is an opportunity through injuries, otherwise stick to the 17 from Game Two as closely as possible … particularly the bench. They just about won them the game last time.