Despite an impressive series win last year, the Maroons are set for a new-look backline under new coach Paul Green with some players returning from injury while as many as three members from the 2021 decider out through injury.
With the upheaval the are a few huge decisions for incoming coach Paul Green.
NRL.com Stats has crunched the numbers to see who should suit up against the Blues on June 9 in the Ampol State of Origin series opener.
Maroons backs candidates
Candidates: Valentine Holmes, Xavier Coates, Phil Sami, Corey Oates
Incumbent Edrick Lee is yet to play this year and while he is now a week-to-week proposition to return for Newcastle, he has likely left his run too late to stake a claim for Origin I.
The other incumbent, North Queensland's Val Holmes, started the season a little slowly along with the rest of his team but has well and truly hit his straps of late, injecting a series of match-turning performances as the Cowboys have won four of their past five games – including a match-winning field goal in the Queensland derby win over the Broncos in round nine.
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His stat line isn't ideal, with plenty of errors and try causes and a poor kick defusal though much of that came in his club's horror 0-4 start to the year.
He has the most busts of any of the Maroons backline candidates and a busy 167 metres per game and looks set to nab the left wing position.
Storm-bound Broncos flyer Xavier Coates is all but certain to grab the right wing berth on the back of his eight tries in nine games in a side that has largely struggled for points.
He has been particularly impressive in the team's two wins, against the Bulldogs and Titans, and scored in both his Origin games last year before missing the decider due to a groin injury.
Titans speedster Phil Sami was in the squad last year where he struggled at times on the wing and may be better suited to a centre role if given a chance this year.
Corey Oates has eight Queensland caps and has been strong since his recall to Brisbane's Telstra Premiership side in round six with his 173 metres per game the best of those in the frame.
Other options less likely to get a look in barring injury include Cowboys duo Kyle Feldt and Murray Tualagi, and Knights flanker Hymel Hunt who is still working his way back from a hamstring injury.
NRL.com verdict: Holmes and Coates
Behind the scenes with JT
Candidates: Dane Gagai, Kurt Capewell, AJ Brimson, Phil Sami
With incumbent Brenko Lee still out inured and Corey Allan – who is the incumbent fullback and has moved to the centre recently for Canterbury – also now sidelined, Green could well call on a makeshift centre.
Rabbitohs veteran Dane Gagai has been in good form and with an impeccable record in Origin, will take one of the centre spots if fit.
Panthers back-rower Kurt Capewell was used out wide to great effect in Origin I last year and will come into consideration while the return of Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga means AJ Brimson's only likely routes into the 17 are centre and bench utility despite his game three heroics last year.
The above-mentioned Sami is worth discussing in his preferred centre role, where he has played more often than not for the Titans this year.
It is hard to compare the candidates statistically because Gagai has played almost exclusively centre, Sami has switched between centre and wing, Brimson has played only at fullback while Capewell has spent the entire season in the back row.
Because Origin isn’t motivated by victory, it’s powered by rivalry
In part it may depend whether Green wants the spark and running game of Brimson over the physicality and strong defence of Capewell, with the stats supporting the notion Brimson would be the attacking option to partner Gagai and Capewell the defensive one.
Green could also be tempted to use Capewell as either a starting edge forward or versatile bench option.
Other available options unlikely to get a look-in barring injury include former Maroons utility Moses Mbye, in-form Eel Tom Opacic and breakout Raider Seb Kris.
NRL.com verdict: Gagai and Brimson
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