Maroons seek next great halves duo
The great unknown awaits the Queensland Maroons as they brace for life after Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk.
With a combined tally of 59 State of Origin games between them, never before has Queensland lost two influential halves of such high calibre at the same time.
The Maroons farewelled their greatest Origin player Wally Lewis in 1991, Allan Langer sailed off into the sunset in 2002 and Darren Lockyer retired at the end of the 2011 series.
When Lewis departed the scene, Langer was in his pomp. When Langer walked off an Origin field for the last time Lockyer still had a decade of Origin footy ahead of him and six series behind him. Exit Lockyer and who was there? Thurston and Cronk in their Origin prime.
The Maroons are set to place their faith in the mercurial Cameron Munster and reborn Ben Hunt in the halves initially in game one of the upcoming State of Origin series. Of the two, only Munster has started in an Origin game.
Queensland selectors are troubled by Michael Morgan's lack of form because their genuine hope at the start of the year was that he continued the progress he had already displayed at Origin and Test level. They are hoping he will rediscover his best soon and give them more to ponder at the selection table.
There is no doubting the quality of the candidates who could inherit the Thurston/Cronk mantle but discussion continues over who should get the initial opportunity.
There is another big question mark that can only be answered by time itself and those cometh the hour cometh the man moments in State of Origin deciders when the pressure is unbearable and the greats confirm their greatness.
Thurston's fingerprints have been all over the clutch plays that have delivered Queensland victory.
The decider in Melbourne in 2006 is often remembered for the Lockyer try that gave the Maroons the opportunity to take a late lead.
Rewind back to the 71st minute. The Maroons trailed 14-4, were inside their own quarter and all seemed lost. It was then Thurston, when nothing was on, sliced through to send Brent Tate flying to the try-line.
In the 66th minute of the game three decider in 2008 it was a Thurston show-and-go down the short side that put Billy Slater over to secure a third consecutive series win.
With a shoulder hanging together by a thread, Thurston's 78th minute match winning conversion from wide out in game two last year was another in his pantheon of series-turning plays.
Cronk's decisive 40 metre field goal in the 75th minute of the 2012 decider at Suncorp Stadium came at a moment where the man himself said he was in a "state of grace". He later explained "every sinew in my body came together in one perfect whole".
It is no coincidence that Cronk missed the first two matches of the 2014 series with a broken arm for all bar the opening minutes of game one, in what was the Maroons' only series loss in the past 12 years.
The next year he was back to his match-winning ways to land a 74th-minute field goal in the series-opener.
Cronk's elevation to the starting role came after an apprenticeship as a specialist number 14 in the Origin arena.
Munster and Hunt have no such luxury.
The Melbourne Storm five-eighth's debut in game three last year was as accomplished as you could hope to see. He appears to be the kind of knockabout character who embraces a challenge, oozes confidence and has no fear of failure.
Hunt is yet to lead a club side to a premiership and so far has played just a few minutes at Origin level. He is the form half of the NRL but how he will handle his next challenge is yet to be determined.
The positive historical point worth considering by Queensland is that when you journey into the great unknown some astounding discoveries are often made.
Thirty-one years ago Queensland selectors unearthed a previously unheralded Ipswich lad with hair as white as snow and gave him a Maroons debut.
For the next 15 years the man known as 'Alf' electrified the Origin arena.
Thurston, a once skinny Murri kid who came through the school of hard knocks has done the same. Ditto Cronk, who extracted every ounce of high performance from a limited range of talent.
Whether Munster, Hunt and future selection candidates can follow in their footsteps remains to be seen.
If they can, and Queensland selectors once again find themselves in a situation where their six and seven pick themselves, the Maroons dynasty will have not run its course just yet.