Staggering mess exposes Maroons’ crisis
IT was the greatest source of fury for defeated NSW supporters and the greatest source of pride for Queenslanders.
Now, the famous Maroons' pick-and-stick policy is well-and truly dead - the final nail in the Maroons' dynasty of dominance coffin.
How quickly Origin moves on.
How quickly Maroons supporters are beginning to know the rollercoaster ride of team selections on the run in the face of defeat and public backlash.
Maroons' coach Kevin Walters' explanations behind his team's selection changes for Origin III at Suncorp Stadium next Wednesday show today, July 2, 2018, is the day NSW fans get to say, 'I told you so'.
In the face of a series whitewash, Queensland has buckled - just as NSW did for more than a decade - to the pressure of dropping players that failed to deliver in the Origin arena.
The decision to drop Ben Hunt to the bench and replace him with a final lifeline for Manly star Daly Cherry-Evans shows, under pressure, Queensland selectors are just as human as their NSW counterparts.
Clearly, the Maroons' selections for Billy Slater's final ever Origin appearance are all the evidence ever needed to kill the myth that Queensland's pick-and-stick policy ever truly existed.
Bitter Blues fans have bemoaned for years how easy it was for Queensland to pick-and-stick with potential future immortals in Slater, Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston.
On Monday their scepticism in the Maroons' policy was vindicated.
When the metal met the meat, the Maroons abandoned their policy.
Walters - to an extent - even came out and said as much when announcing his team for Game 3.
"We're very loyal as Queenslanders, but we want to be loyal to a winning Queensland team," he said.
The popular coach insisted in his press conference that his team still has faith in Hunt following his underwhelming display in NSW's series-clinching victory at ANZ Stadium where the Maroons failed to score when the Blues were reduced to 12 men.
Very happy for Corey Oates deserves re-call. Worry for Ben Hunt’s confidence. This is Queensland saying we don’t trust you at halfback anymore. pic.twitter.com/tJRfOQBbiA— Chris Garry (@ChrisGarry7) July 1, 2018
If Queensland had Thurston at halfback instead of Ben Hunt they win this game by 10 points. Big step down. NSW win series 2-0 #Origin— Jamie Pandaram (@JamiePandaram) June 24, 2018
Winning and loyalty were the two pillars Queensland's identity has been built on in the past 12 years. In the space of two defeats, both have been eroded, broken.
Walters has also shown complete confusion around the direction of his team.
"We'll have a mindset looking to next year certainly," Walters told Sky Sports Radio the day after Origin II.
"We'll have an eye on what's going to happen for next year's series. If we can get a head start on next year, then that's going to help us. Preparation for 2019 starts now, starts today."
His selections suggest otherwise. Instead of making a move with an eye on 2019, the Maroons are backflipping to give Cherry-Evans a final chance.
There were loud calls that a dead-rubber in Brisbane was the perfect time for Queensland to give promising talents their Origin debuts, including Titans playmaker Ash Taylor.
The Maroons went the other way - zero debutants. DCE back from exile, Taylor and Anthony Milford ignored.
Having decided the team lacked leadership in the halves with Hunt in control, Walters moved him to the bench. Second-guessing, chopping and changing on the run. It's a move so NSW it hurts.
Smells like the last chance saloon for DCE. If he can’t nail it in Origin III, he can wave goodbye to playing for Queensland again. Haven’t always seen eye to eye with the bloke but hope it works out. Been a tough season for him and Manly— Brent Read (@brentread_7) July 1, 2018
Even Hunt's Dragons teammates, New South Welshman no less, could appreciate Queensland's clear selection paradox.
Walters declaration that the Maroons lacked leadership in its halves in Game 2 did not go down well in Wollongong, with Dragons hooker Cameron McInnes coming out in support of his teammate after the pair had helped take the Saints to the top of the NRL ladder this season.
"I think it's the wrong decision," McInnes said.
"They can do what they want, I'm not a Queensland fan. I'm NSW. But I don't think he deserved to be put back to No. 14.
"I thought he was their best player in Game I, he kept them in the game. In Game II he probably had a couple of moments he'd like to take back. But that's footy.
"To put him to the bench I don't think he deserves that. But he'll play that No. 14 role the best he can and he won't complain and that's the great thing about him."
Last week Dragons coach Paul McGregor said the criticism of Hunt had been over the top, while centre Tim Lafai also questioned the demotion on Monday.
"I thought he deserved to keep his starting spot and I'm sure the other boys did too," he said.
Meanwhile Walters insisted Hunt still belonged in the Origin arena and claimed the move wasn't made solely off the back of the Sydney loss.
"We know he belongs at this level, he does belong in this Queensland team, it's just a matter of finding his role within the side," Walters said.
"The interchange role is one that can be really effective at this level.
"To blame him for what happened in Game II is absolutely ridiculous, that has never been our stance."
Neither has reactionary selection shake-ups - but that's clearly what was delivered on Monday.
What the Queensland stance is today is not what the Queensland stance was last year - just ask Ben Hunt.