With both New South Wales and Queensland teams named, the rugby league world is preparing for the Origin series opener.
But as always, questions remain.
From contentious selection decisions, to positional changes, here are all the burning questions going into the 2022 series.
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IS COBBO READY?
Selwyn Cobbo’s selection didn’t come as a surprise to rugby league fans.
The Broncos flyer has been in scintillating form under Kevin Walters, but at only 20-years of age and 19 first grade appearances under his belt it begs the question — is it too early to pick Cobbo?
To start the season, the young gun looked flustered at times, and when his side was on the backfoot, didn’t provide go-forward.
Cobbo sits fifth in the competition for total errors with 19 in twelve games, behind four playmakers in Lachlan Ilias, Cody Walker, Ben Hunt and Shaun Johnson who touch the ball considerably more than a winger.
Despite the question marks surrounding the young flyer, his try-scoring record was clearly enough to entice rookie coach Billy Slater to pick him on the wing.
Cobbo has scored 10 tries in 12 games and has been a big reason why the Broncos have surged up the ladder.
He also is set for an interesting match-up with Blues winger Brian To’o who has a considerably smaller frame.
Expect Cobbo to produce moments of brilliance in the series opener.
WILL WIGHTON’S SELECTION COME BACK TO HAUNT THE BLUES?
Eyebrows were raised when Jack Wighton was picked at centre.
Stephen Crichton was the obvious choice to slot into the outside backs when the extended squad was named, before Fittler decided he will take up a role on the bench.
Speculation has circled ‘Freddy’ will make a late switch, but what if the Raiders star stays at centre?
In his nine Blues appearances, five have been in the centres, winning three of those games.
Wighton has hardly put a foot wrong when selected in the outside backs, but was quiet by his own standards when named at five-eighth in the final game last season.
Wighton’s strength is clearly his running game and is a danger every time he has ball in hand.
At centre, the main role of the position is to attack the defensive line and either draw a man in or find the winger in space.
When broken down in its simplest form, it is a job Wighton should excel at.
In club-land he is forced to organise and use his kicking game, but in Origin he can focus on the best part of his game.
Maybe Fittler has made the right call in this case.
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IS BEN HUNT THE FIRST CHOICE HOOKER?
Eyebrows were raised when Billy Slater named Dragons star Ben Hunt in the No.9 jersey.
Harry Grant has been dealing with a groin injury and the flu, but the rookie coach explained Hunt had earned his spot.
“First we feel that Ben Hunt has earnt the opportunity to play in the No.9 jersey,” Slater said.
“He has been the Ron McAuliffe Medallist, which is Queensland’s best player, two series out of the last three years, so we feel that he has earnt that opportunity.”
The 32-year-old has been outstanding at club level this season and is leading the Dally M leaderboard.
Hunt has not played at hooker in 2022, but Maroons fans will remember his performance in the final game last year.
The Dragons star was named man of the match and scored two tries to lead his side to a strong victory, even though the series was already decided.
While proving himself at No.9 last year, the Blues are set to target him in the defensive line, having missed the most tackles in the competition, with 54 in 12 games.
Defending in the middle in Origin is a daunting task, and with Junior Paulo, Reagan Campbell Gillard and Junior Paulo set to charge at the No.9, Slater may be slightly worried.
“The statistics are obvious – they don’t lie. You can’t defy the stats. You can’t run away from the stats and these are the stats … boom,” Elias said to The Daily Telegraph.
“Hunt is a tough bugger but everyone can be ‘got at’.
“Hunt’s missed tackles is the big elephant in the room. NSW will take advantage of it, no doubt about it.”
WILL HOLMES FIRE AT CENTRE?
Valentine Holmes will play his first game at centre for the Maroons in the series opener.
In pre-season, question marks were raised regarding Holmes’ switch to centre.
Many pundits explained the Cowboys were paying him too much to play on an edge, with the emergence of Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow as the team’s preferred No.1.
The 26-year-old has well and truly quelled any doubts, becoming one of the competition’s best in the role.
Holmes has been one of Todd Payten’s most important players in helping the North Queensland club emerge as finals contenders.
Sitting 12th for competition line breaks and third for total points, Holmes has well and truly justified his Origin selection.
The former Sharks flyer has admitted he is nervous playing in a new position for the Maroons, but come game day Holmes will be ready to do battle against the Blues.
“I’m comfortable in the sense I know where I am playing. But it is a new position for me in this arena,” Holmes said.
“So I am a little nervous.
“But I have (Cameron) Munster inside me, Xavier Coates there.
“And we all know how good Munster is defensively, he is always working his backside off. He will always cover me if I make the wrong decision.”
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CAN NSW GET IT DONE WITHOUT LATRELL AND TURBO?
Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic were two of NSW’s best in the 2021 series.
Both fullbacks were shoved into the centres and provided spark and attacking flair the Maroons were unable to handle.
In last year’s series opener, Trbojevic scored three and Mitchell one to hand the Queensland side a 50-6 flogging.
Manly’s marquee man went on to win player of the series and the pair tallied seven four-pointers as a pairing.
Now, after Trbojevic’s season ending shoulder injury and Latrell’s hamstring, both will be sidelined for the series opener.
Kotoni Staggs and Jack Wighton are the two named to take their place, but can they provide the firepower needed in the Origin arena?
Mitchell’s playing style is based on power, much like that of the Brisbane centre, while Trbojevic’s running game is one of the best in the competition, an aspect Wighton also excels in.
Brad Fittler knows that the centre position is a key battle, with the Maroons lining up with two of the best in Gagai and Holmes.
Expect fireworks in the centres in the series opener.
CAN TARIQ SIMS STILL CUT IT?
Dragons veteran Tariq Sims was cut in most pundits’ predicted Blues team.
But Fittler remained loyal, picking the 32-year-old to start in the backrow.
Many were left confused by the selection, given that Sims started the year on the bench for the Dragons, but Fittler believes his tried and tested enforcer can get the job done again.
Sims has by no means set the world on fire in club-land, but has been solid.
He is also a proven Origin star and always steps up on the big occasions, playing in all three games in 2021.
Sims was one of NSW’s best last year, and now has five Origin games under his belt.
With a number of young and talented stars within the forward pack including Liam Martin and Payne Haas, Sims can provide a level and experienced head and help Cleary marshall his troops.
Expect the Dragons enforcer to be one of NSW’s best come the series opener.
IS SLATER EXPERIENCED ENOUGH TO BE AN ORIGIN COACH?
Billy Slater’s coaching resume was slim prior to being handed the Maroons head role.
But, with 31 Origin appearances as a player, few know what it takes to succeed as a Queensland player more than him.
The 38-year-old has played under some of the game’s best coaching including Mal Meninga and Craig Bellamy and will be hoping to take the best parts of those two men to develop his own style.
Slater has looked calm and poised in every media opportunity so far, and with a rugby league brain like this — question his team selections at your own peril.
The Daily Telegraph’s Paul Kent said on NRL360 that everything has been pitch perfect in Slater’s short coaching career thus far.
“I think Billy is plotting and everything I have heard out of Billy so far, or from people about Billy, is that it is perfect, which is a concern, because I don’t think NSW have it all pitch perfect,” Kent said.
Slater was also a key part of Queensland’s most successful period, an eight-year stretch of winning the state vs state series.
The intelligent fullback will almost certainly be a successful coach and has picked one of the most competitive Queensland teams in recent memory hoping to spring an upset.
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