Maroons Origin team: Dearden holds slight edge over Mam with Slater set to unveil new-look squad


Tom Dearden is closing in on a Queensland recall as Maroons coach Billy Slater prepares to select his new-look team for the State of Origin series opener.

The North Queensland playmaker is on track to edge out Brisbane’s Ezra Mam for the No.6 jersey vacated by the injured Cameron Munster.

Slater and fellow selectors Gene Miles and Darren Lockyer will pick the team on Sunday night before it is named on Monday morning on the Queensland Rugby League website.

Dearden, 23, did a fabulous job on Origin debut in game three of the 2022 series where he got late notice that Munster was out of the game. He helped guide the Maroons to a 22-12 win.

Mam has been in electric form for the Broncos and announced himself as a big-game player by scoring three tries in last year’s NRL grand final.

“Tommy is a competitor. He has been there before in an unbelievable debut and earned the right to be there,” former Maroons centre Brent Tate told AAP. “Ezra is tough and he has got X-factor. When they name the team on Monday – whether it is Tommy or Ezra – I will understand why they went that way.

“Honestly you are splitting hairs between the two of them. They both deserve it. We are spoilt for choice there.”

The Maroons are depleted in the middle forwards, with Tom Gilbert and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui out with season-ending knee injuries. Dolphins prop Tom Flegler is also unavailable with a shoulder injury.

Parramatta lock J’maine Hopgood is in the frame for a debut while St George Illawarra powerhouse Jaydn Su’A has put his hand up for a recall.

“I know Billy is looking at quite a few guys like Hopgood,” Lockyer said. “The guys in the frame Billy is talking to and giving them an idea of what he is looking for.”

Brisbane prop Corey Jensen is knocking on the door for at least a spot on an extended bench.

Slater said he would convene with Miles and Lockyer after the Warriors v Dolphins clash on Sunday night to finalise the squad. “That’s when you get the information on the players available and the health of those players,” Slater said.

“Then you can make an educated decision. Everyone has their opinions. The only difference with the selectors and myself is that we have to make that decision. It is important to a lot of people and we take that responsibility highly.

“That is why it is hard to name any individuals (as being certainties) because you just don’t know until we get to that Sunday night.”

Tom Dearden runs the ball. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

More experienced forwards Francis Molo, Moeaki Fotuaika and Christian Welch are also in the mix for the bench berths. 

Munster will miss the entire State of Origin series after scans revealed a tear in the Queensland five-eighth’s adductor tendon. 

Munster has been battling groin pain since first suffering the injury slipping in the shower during Melbourne’s pre-season trip to Fiji, missing the first month of the NRL season.

He will need between eight and 10 more weeks on the sidelines after aggravating the issue in a tackle just before half-time in the Storm’s 48-16 defeat of Parramatta at Magic Round.

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Last year’s team

Origin III 
1 AJ Brimson 
2 Xavier Coates
3 Valentine Holmes
4 Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow
5 Murray Taulagi
6 Cameron Munster
7 Daly Cherry-Evans
8 Reuben Cotter
9 Harry Grant
10 Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
11 David Fifita
12 Jeremiah Nanai
13 Patrick Carrigan
14 Ben Hunt
15 Lindsay Collins
16 Moeaki Fotuaika 
17 Corey Horsburgh

Brimson will make way for Walsh at the back, Fa’asuamaleaui is sidelined until next year with a torn ACL and Corey Horsburgh and Cameron Munster are out with groin complaints.

Carrigan could be switched up front to prop to take on the Fa’asuamaleaui role of being the team’s main aggressor.

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The spine

You can lock it in that, barring injuries, Walsh will be at the back, Tom Dearden and Daly Cherry-Evans will combine in the halves with Ben Hunt and Harry Grant sharing the hooking duties. 

Dearden put in an exemplary debut two years ago at five-eighth when Munster was out and if elevated to the starting squad, it will open a place for Ezra Mam or Sam Walker in the extended squad.

The backs

Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow has been electric at centre for the Maroons over the past couple of years and now that he is back from his hamstring problem in time, Slater will shift Selwyn Cobbo to the flank.

The Hammer will partner Valentine Holmes in the centres. 

Xavier Coates and Murray Taulagi had been the first-choice options on the flanks although the latter is set to be squeezed out if Cobbo is not needed at centre.

Reece Walsh. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The pack

David Fifita and Jeremiah Nanai haven’t been at their absolute best at club level this season but have the ability to rise to the occasion for Origin. 

Cotter is a proven 80-minute performer for Queensland while Lindsay Collins has developed into one of the best props in the NRL at the Roosters. 

The only real question facing Slater is whether he ushers in some new blood on his bench by picking Hopgood or Jensen or sticks with players who have been there and done that like Fotuaika and Welch. 

Hopgood’s ability to switch to an edge could give him an advantage over other options for a bench spot.

Possible Maroons team

1 Reece Walsh
2 Xavier Coates
3 Valentine Holmes
4 Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow
5 Selwyn Cobbo
6 Tom Dearden
7 Daly Cherry-Evans
8 Reuben Cotter
9 Ben Hunt
10 Lindsay Collins
11 David Fifita
12 Jeremiah Nanai
13 Patrick Carrigan
14 Harry Grant
15 Christian Welch
16 Moeaki Fotuaika 
17 J’maine Hopgood
18 Ezra Mam

with AAP

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