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Renouf: Why spine combo will give Maroons edge in Origin

If the Maroons pick the spine I think and hope they will on Monday, then I can see it being a huge advantage in the opening game of the State of Origin Series in Melbourne.

In the key positions, I anticipate Billy Slater, Cameron Munster, Ben Hunt and Andrew McCullough to all get the nod.

The club combination of Slater and Munster and the long-standing relationship between Hunt and McCullough cannot be underestimated.

McCullough and Hunt were together for a decade from their days in the Broncos under 20s in 2008.

They know what each other is all about and that is the combination you build after years of playing together. They will have a level of communication that the new NSW hooker/half combo will not have no matter who they choose.

The Walters brothers and Allan Langer knew what each other was going to do, even if no one else did, because of years playing together in Ipswich.

At Origin and Australian level I always felt more comfortable when Kevin Walters was on the field because we had a special combination. To give you an example, in the 1992 World Cup final he came on and I knew what he was going to do. It is why I was able to score that late try.

Toovey and Noddy pick their Origin teams

Kevin has been working in and around those two lads for years and is a big fan. He's coached them and was a big help to Hunt in particular. Ben has said that. That can only be a bonus.

Yes, the Maroons have lost Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston, but the good thing about Munster is he just does his thing. He does it within the team structure, and he showed that in his debut Origin match.

He has his Melbourne teammate Billy Slater at the back and I see those two using their own club combination in attack to maximum impact. Slater and Munster are instinctive players and if Billy sees him take off you can guarantee he'll be right there by his side.

Whoever NSW pick in their spine they won't have the long-standing combinations the Queenslanders already do.

Without a doubt, it is a massive hole with Cameron Smith gone but that is the way it is.

One thing you can guarantee with McCullough is he is tough - he can tackle all game long and he won't take a backward step in the middle. He's got a bit of a kicking game as well. That is all they need.

The Maroons don't need him to be like Smith in the other facets of his game. They just need him to be Andrew McCullough and not worry about wearing that No.9 jersey that used to belong to Smith. He's good enough and he's tough enough. He'll handle it with aplomb. I'll be so happy for him - I love the way he plays the game and he is a good lad.

On another front, Slater's talk at the back is going to be invaluable for all those relatively inexperienced Origin guys in the spine.

Billy will be their eyes for them. They are in the middle marshalling the troops and Slater has the vision and the yap to help those boys out.

I picked my Origin team a month ago but I've made a slight change because Josh Papalii has hit form at the right time and I would bring him in for Jai Arrow. Papalii is a Queensland incumbent, he's mobile and a big body. Historically you need that on the bench.

I watched his game the other day and he was carrying blokes with him. He is playing out of his skin and that is great timing for Queensland.

Coaches Corner: Edge defence and attack

Ricky Stuart dropped him and that was a kick up the butt to get him to come back on fire. It has all worked out. Ricky was smart there. Canberra have played a lot better since he's come back.

I still rate Arrow highly. He's a very good young player and his time will come. If Josh McGuire is fit he has to be in there, despite him not playing this last month. We need his mongrel. In this first game, we need to stick with the tried and true.

The Maroons have lost some great players in Thurston, Smith and Cronk but it won't be such a bad thing for Queensland and will bring them together even tighter.

In Sydney, you will see their media blow the wind up NSW and we've seen that go to their heads in the past.

They read all that stuff and take it to heart. Queensland have a great way of shutting all that outside noise out and concentrating on themselves. One thing we know about Queensland is we don't mind being underdogs.

We thrive on it.

Steve Renouf's Queensland team for the Holden State of Origin series opener: 1. Billy Slater, 2. Valentine Holmes, 3. Greg Inglis, 4. Will Chambers, 5. Dane Gagai, 6. Cameron Munster, 7, Ben Hunt, 8. Matt Scott, 9. Andrew McCullough, 10, Jarrod Wallace, 11. Gavin Cooper, 12. Felise Kaufusi, 13. Josh McGuire, 14. Michael Morgan, 15. Coen Hess, 16. Josh Papalii, 17. Dylan Napa.


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