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Maroons Origin I predicted team: Munster boost; Stars in doubt but AJ's OK

Having crunched the numbers on all available candidates over the past three weeks then factored in for fresh injuries and suspensions, NRL.com Stats has compiled its best possible Maroons team for the State of Origin series opener on June 9.

In a great piece of news for Queensland, Cameron Munster was on Sunday cleared by Storm medical staff to enter camp for the Origin opener.

There remains doubt over the availability of hooker Harry Grant, who has a hamstring injury although he told NRL.com this week he was sure he would be good to go by kick-off.

In another potential blow, AJ Brimson limped from the field with a knee injury during the second half of his side's match against Cronulla on Sunday.

However, he told Fox Sports after the match he doesn't think it's a long-term injury and "if I get picked, I'll be right to go".

Storm coach Craig Bellamy said Grant was all but over his injury but Munster's foot complaint had lingered and could not say whether he would be able to suit up for the Maroons.

Throwing a further spanner into the works for Queensland on Friday was Storm forward Felise Kaufusi being charged with tripping.

Kaufusi has been handed a grade-one offence for an incident involving Broncos hooker Jake Turpin on Thursday night and due to two previous non-similar offences in the past two years, he will miss one game even if submits an early guilty plea.

He will only be free to play for Queensland if he can prove his innocence at the panel.

If he is suspended, Kurt Capewell and Jaydn Su'A are the main candidates to partner David Fifita in the second row.

The absences of the suspended Josh Papalii and injured Lindsay Collins had already created some openings in the pack.

Out wide for the Maroons, fullback Kalyn Ponga has been ruled out of Newcastle's clash with Manly due to an ongoing groin complaint so he too will need to prove his fitness for the rep arena.

1. Kalyn Ponga. The Knights custodian was in doubt with an adductor strain but returns this week and just needs to get through the game safely to take his place for Origin I.

2. Xavier Coates. The Storm-bound Broncos flyer is having a terrific year in a struggling team and was excellent in his maiden series last year, scoring in both games he played.

3. Dane Gagai. The past three weeks haven't been ideal for the Rabbitohs but Gagai's Origin pedigree is beyond question. While his best work has come on the wing, his state needs him in the centres this year.

4. AJ Brimson. One of the more controversial picks, Brimson is something of an unknown quantity in the centres but the Maroons are no strangers to makeshift three-quarter selections and this is the only obvious route into the starting 13 for the in-form Titan, in a spot where the Maroons are otherwise light on.

5. Valentine Holmes. Regarded as the world's best winger not too long ago, the Cowboys fullback has hit top form of late and is an easy pick on one wing for Paul Green.

6. Cameron Munster*. There is a huge question mark over superstar five-eighth Cameron Munster, who is battling a foot injury. His last Origin performance was Wally Lewis-like and his state will likely give him as long as they can to prove his fitness.

Ben Hunt has been there and done it all before and is playing good footy even if wins have been hard to come by at the Red V of late. He comes in to partner DCE if Munster is ruled out.

7. Daly Cherry-Evans. The winning Maroons captain has a tough first month of 2021 but his Sea Eagles are absolutely dominating of late with DCE in top form after also excelling in last year's upset win.

Behind the scenes with JT

8. Christian Welch. The losses of Josh Papalii and Lindsay Collins are massive but the in-form Storm big man ensures there is still plenty of punch in the engine room with his offloads a key point of difference.

9. Reed Mahoney. Mahoney and Harry Grant have pushed each other for representative jerseys for years now, with Grant bursting into the Origin scene last year but struggling with a hamstring injury of late.

Grant will have played no footy in more than a month when Origin I kicks off, even though he is likely to be available. While he was the No.9 in our original analysis, that lack of match fitness means Mahoney – who has been in career best form this year and playing huge minutes week-in week-out – starts at hooker.

10. Tino Fa'asuamaleaui. Big Tino was always going to be in the 17 but the absences of Papalii and Collins thrust him into a start prop role. His fiery debut last year was a key plank of the Maroons' upset win and he looks built for this stage.

11. Felise Kaufusi*. One of those players who tends to go under the radar a bit but always gets his job done, the Storm back-rower played every minute of last year's series win and was certain to be retained this year but will have to get off a tripping charge to be eligible to play.

12. David Fifita. The tackle-busting Titan missed last year's series win through injury but simply must be picked, such is his dominance at NRL level this year. Returns from suspension this week to blow the cobwebs out before game one.

Because Origin isn’t motivated by victory, it’s powered by rivalry

13. Jai Arrow. Despite coming off the bench at Souths this year, Arrow's starting credentials are beyond doubt. Has been excellent for the Maroons when given the chance and with a few other middles unavailable, is the logical choice for the No.13 jersey.

14. Harry Grant. As mentioned above, match fitness could be a concern but his whirlwind debut off the bench last year shows what an impact he can make off the bench once the game has opened up.

15. Moeaki Fotuaika. Was in our Maroons 17 even before his stunning performance against Canterbury last week. His energy off the bench should add plenty to Green's side.

16. Kurt Capewell. Was excellent last year whether at centre or back row and remains a candidate for a centre spot. However his versatility – he can cover edge or middle forward or centre and has even filled in on the wing with success – make him the perfect Origin bench forward.

17. Jarrod Wallace. Something of a toss up for the final spot with Wallace's strong attacking form this year earning him the nod over the likes of Joe Ofahengaue, Coen Hess, Corey Horsburgh, Jaydn Su'A and Josh Kerr.

18th man. Ben Hunt. Unlucky not to be in the 17, Hunt comes in to start in the halves if Munster is not fit for game one. 

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