Origin to help solve Australia's World Cup puzzle
Darius Boyd’s move to centre for Queensland in State of Origin II may create room for rival fullbacks Billy Slater and James Tedesco to both be named in Australia’s squad for the Rugby League World Cup.
With each nation limited to 24 places in their World Cup squads, players who can play more than one position will have increased value.
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga is likely to only have room for:
Five centres and wingers;
Five props; and
Boyd has been the Australian and Queensland fullback for the past two seasons in the absence of Slater but has switched to left centre for the Maroons to accommodate his return in Origin II and could play either there or on the wing in the World Cup.
Such a move would enable Meninga to consider both Slater and Tedesco, who was just pipped by Andrew Fifita for man-of-the-match honours in NSW’s 28-4 win in the opening Origin match and has experience playing centre for Italy at the 2013 World Cup.
On the flipside, Australia will have no shortage of fullback options in the squad as Blues centre Josh Dugan wears the No.1 jersey at NRL level for St George Illawarra, while fellow NSW centre Jarryd Hayne and Maroons winger Valentine Holmes would comfortably slot into the role if required.
NSW interchange player Jack Bird and Penrith captain Matt Moylan are both likely to come under consideration for a utility role in the Kangaroos squad and could also play fullback.
Like Boyd, halves Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk are considered certainties for three of the 11 backline positions in the squad, while only injury or a sudden loss of form is likely to cost Dugan and NSW winger Blake Ferguson their places – leaving six spots to be decided during Origin and the NRL finals.
Either Slater or Tedesco is expected to play fullback but both could be chosen, meaning there would be just two other places for centres and wingers.
Meninga’s decision will be influenced by whether he believes Boyd is a better option at fullback ahead of either Slater or Tedesco should the other be ruled out during the tournament, or if he is more valuable to the balance of the squad as a centre or winger.
The other main contenders for the three-quarters spots are Dugan, Ferguson, Holmes, fellow Queenslanders Will Chambers and Dane Gagai, Hayne, Blues winger Brett Morris, Josh Mansour and Tom Trbojevic.
It is also possible that the Australian selectors will opt for a utility player such as Bird or Moylan in addition to two back-up halves and therefore carry just four centres or wingers in the squad, along with two fullbacks.
The main contenders for the three-quarters spots are Boyd, Dugan, Ferguson, Holmes, Queenslanders Will Chambers and Dane Gagai, Hayne, Blues winger Brett Morris, Josh Mansour, Tom Trboyevich and Justin O’Neill.
Mansour was in the Kangaroos squad for last year’s Four Nations but tore his anterior cruciate ligament in a training mishap and has only recently returned to playing with Penrith, while Trbojevic would have been chosen on the wing for NSW in Origin I if not for a knee injury.
Besides Thurston and Cronk, NSW five-eighth James Maloney and Queensland bench utility Michael Morgan are likely to be the other halves but Mitchell Pearce could usurp one of them if he continues his good form for Sydney Roosters and the Blues.
NSW hooker Nathan Peats could also force his way into the squad as back up for Australia captain Cameron Smith ahead of Jake Friend, who was a member of the 2016 Four Nations squad.
Of the other forwards, NSW props Andrew Fifita, Aaron Woods, David Klemmer and Jake Trbojevic appear to have the running for four of the front row berths.
Meninga is expected to choose either six specialist props or five and rely on a backrower who can play in the frontrow such as Josh Papalii.
The other main contenders are Queensland’s Dylan Napa and Jarrod Wallace, and Canberra prop Shannon Boyd, who also played in the Four Nations.
Boyd Cordner, Matt Gillett and Tyson Frizell are almost certain backrow selections, with Wade Graham, Josh Jackson, Coen Hess, Sam Thaiday and Trent Merrin vying for two or three other spots.
Thaiday and Merrin played in Australia’s 32-6 ANZAC Test win over New Zealand in Canberra, while Boyd, Maloney and O’Neill were in the 20-man squad but of the five only Maloney has been chosen for Origin II - although Merrin was called into the NSW team as 19th man in place of the suspended Jack De Belin.