Cobbo in the middle: How Queensland’s bench shapes up for a crazy last quarter only Origin could deliver


Billy Slater has no shortage of strategic prowess. Yet, Queensland’s Origin bench is a perfect mixture of a complicated, but curated mess.

It all starts with the No.14. Arguably State of Origin’s most impactful player. This year we see Isaah Yeo and Harry Grant battle it out in respectively different modes of versatility to provide an instant punch.

Throughout history it has been a role to rotate the playmakers around the ruck; with the likes of Andrew Johns, Craig Wing, Cooper Cronk and Ben Ikin all coming on after the grunt of the first 25 minutes to add creative spark and speed.

Kalyn Ponga’s Origin debut in game two of the 2018 series quickly comes to mind as the ideal No.14 stint. With Billy Slater a staple at Queensland’s back, it seems crazy now six years on to reimagine the two talents in the same outfit.

Cooper Cronk scrambles for the ball at Suncorp Stadium on June 16, 2010 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

The Newcastle wizz was effectively everywhere. He played 52 minutes, ran for 102 metres, all while making an incredible 29 tackles. He did all but score a try, as James Tedesco stopped the headgear bandit two metres short of the Blues line.

Harry Grant doesn’t have the speed of Ponga, but out of the ruck his service and deception is equally as valuable. Grant will make his first appearance towards the latter stages of the first half around the 27-30 minute mark, to insert pace back into the Queensland set with fresh forwards and give Ben Hunt a quick breather.

Hunt and Grant will likely combine in the last 15-20 minutes of the contest, with Grant filling in as a ball-playing forward. This positional switch could burn the likes of Jake Trbojevic and Liam Martin, who will have to play big minutes with a Blues bench consisting of limited time players Spencer Leniu and second rowers Haumole Olakau’tau and Hudson Young, who admittedly must have to feature in the middle – unless plans are to play prop and captain Trbojevic for the full 80.

The No.15 in Moeaki Fotuaika is a rather simple interchange process in the scheme of things. The Titan will replace Lindsay Collins (who generally averages 40-45 minutes) before the half and go hard until the 60th, allowing a starting prop to have the final say.

Queensland’s remaining two in the 17 is where strategies and the so called ‘spirit’ come into fruition. Given J’Maine Hopgood is an 80-minute player, his form on the field could define the duration of his appearance. The Eels lock will undoubtedly enter before half-time for Reuben Cotter, and likely shift Patrick Carrigan to the middle.

Hopgood’s offloading ability is a trait Billy Slater will want available come the last quarter of the game. It could result in the debutant playing 60 minutes, while Cotter returns to give Carrigan a well-earned sit.

By the 60th minute, Queensland’s pack could look very jumbled on paper. It’s a dilemma, but a luxurious one to have. Ben Hunt and Harry Grant are two on-field certainties in the final 15. Slater must then decide on benching the No.11 or 12 to support having two hookers plus Carrigan on the ground. It would make Queensland an attacking nightmare, but could in turn pose vulnerability on their defensive edges.

Harry Grant all smiles ahead of Origin one (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Now, this is where the bench system gets thrown out the window with the rugby league universe. Selwyn Cobbo in the No.17 jersey.

While purposely selected as ‘backline cover’ by coach Slater, what happens if theoretically, no one gets injured?

Could Cobbo feature in the second-row and play a menacing role to rev-up early tackles in the set and add to the Queensland edge attack?

The Broncos tried it briefly with Corey Oates. The big frame centre could have a Sonny Bill Williams effect in the Origin arena, smacking the Blues defence with hard-running lines and short offloads.

Reece Walsh could also take a backwards step towards the start of sets, allowing Cobbo to charge in off kick returns and create quick play-the-balls. In turn, the freakish No.1 would have a little more gas in his lungs for the fifth and sixth tackles, preserving that insane turn of foot.

Effectively, the two roaming fullbacks strategy would have to make way for a centre or second-rower. Given the work-rate of current day wingers, Cobbo could also replace Coates or Taulagi to provide a fresh attacking option out wide.

The Blues evidently butchered the application of the No.14 in game two last year, when Damien Cook was thrust into the centres after a Tom Trbojevic injury.

Hynes was faced with a similar issue in game one, which resulted in a pace mis-match and a Blues loss.

Slater has seemingly planned for a plethora of scenarios come Wednesday. Yet if everything pans out like it should, the Queensland playing 13 has an unprecedented amount of options for coach Slater.

Pack on a list of injuries or fatigue and we could see Selwyn Cobbo hitting an unders line as a second-rower … wow.

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