Is 2019 the time for a new Queensland spine?
The 2018 Holden State of Origin series is lost, but Queensland don't need to reinvent the wheel.
But for the 2019 series to be won, maybe they need to rejuvenate their spine.
With the farewell of Billy Slater next month at Suncorp Stadium, the exit of undoubtedly the best No.1, 6, 7, and 9 in Origin history will be complete.
Slater, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith all began playing for Queensland in their early 20s and left in their mid-30s – five Origin series wins later. Darren Lockyer at No.6 was part of the first six (from 2006 to 2011).
So a perfect storm has arrived for Queensland selectors for a spinal clean-out in 2019.
Firstly, the Maroons lost the 2018 campaign, and secondly the last of the four musketeers will be gone.
Kalyn Ponga steps into the fullback jersey vacated by Slater. No argument there.
Cameron Munster retains the five-eighth jersey. He helped Melbourne win the 2017 Telstra Premiership playing pivot – learning all the time off Cronk – and then played for Australia.
His coach Craig Bellamy calls Munster "a real footballer" because he tries anything, goes anywhere, and comes up with instinctive plays because he just won't give in. So little argument retaining him as Queensland's No.6.
Wally Lewis also likes the cut of Munster's No.6 cloth, and Lewis is The King after all.
The real debate comes with the No.7 and No.9 currently occupied by Ben Hunt and Andrew McCullough.
Hunt could well win this year's Telstra Premiership as halfback with the Dragons. He certainly has the ability to with an average kicking distance per game of 291.8 metres.
That is a little more than one of his competitors in Titans halfback Ash Taylor (289.2 metres).
But Hunt isn't faring well with Taylor when it comes to effectiveness. Taylor has 16 try assists so far in 2018 and 12 line break assists. Hunt has 10 TAs and 8 LBAs.
McCullough is a workhorse at hooker. Tops the tackle count per match every time.
But does Queensland need more of a stallion than a workhorse with a proven running game?
NSW No.9 Damien Cook made seven dashes from dummy-half in both Origin I and Origin II for 14 in total. McCullough's total for the same two games is seven – half as good.
When you think of premier dummy-half runners you think Cook, Issac Luke and Jake Granville.
The curly-haired Cowboys rake doesn't mind a dash towards retreating defenders.
So there's a 2019 spine for you: Ponga, Munster, Taylor, Granville.
But Queensland is not known for impatience, even if they are in a rebuilding phase.
Slowing things down a little, the injured Michael Morgan needs to be factored in.
The solidly-built playmaker should be wearing the No.7 jersey for the Cowboys next year after Thurston retires from club football.
We all saw Morgan steer North Queensland to the 2017 grand final, when he had full control, and when he's not carrying a groin injury, or torn bicep.
Morgan on fire at No.7 for the Cowboys next year and Granville at No.9 would give you that wonderful club intuition and connection that Smith and Cronk enjoyed.
So there's a 2019 spine for you: Ponga, Munster, Morgan, Granville.
Origin is such a difficult level to defend well in the middle. McCullough does have that capability and probably it's the reason he got the nod over Granville and Jake Friend in the first place.
But Smith's positional kicking was as sound as him knocking over any player that moved in his sphere.
He was absolutely the best at making tackles in the middle and the best at directing attack on the flip side. Queensland does not have that all-round hooker right now.
But Hunt comes close. That then allows you to have Kangaroos Morgan-Munster as your halves but retain the very tactical football brain of Hunt.
So there's a 2019 spine for you: Ponga, Munster, Morgan, Hunt.
- 'He'll be unstoppable': Slater and Holmes in awe of Ponga
- Blues win finally puts Origin back on an even keel
- Stat of Origin: Ponga outshines senior teammates
Origin at Suncorp, there's nothing like it! Game III tickets available here