Maroons selection puzzle 'a great headache' for Kevin Walters

Queensland coach Kevin Walters will select Greg Inglis at fullback this year if that's where the Maroons captain wants to play but there is a caveat.

Walters has given NRL.com an insight into his selection philosophy as he plots reversing last year's 2-1 series loss to NSW.

Souths coach Wayne Bennett has told NRL.com of his intention to play Inglis at fullback which would make a straight swap for the retired Billy Slater the obvious choice for Queensland.

Walters has spoken to Inglis about his plans and in essence it will come down to where the Maroons captain is playing for Souths, where he wants to line up for Queensland and, most importantly, what is in the best interests of the team.

"We'll just wait and see where he plays for Souths and where Greg is comfortable," Walters said.

"If he's comfortable playing at fullback for the Maroons, he'll be the fullback. It's that easy."

However, Origin history provides compelling evidence that where a player lines up for his club is not necessarily where he will play for Queensland.

Inglis's situation is a case in point. He was Dally M fullback of the year in 2013 and won a premiership with South Sydney that same year in the custodian's position, but played all three Origin games that season at left centre.

Greg Inglis in action for Queensland in 2018.
Greg Inglis in action for Queensland in 2018. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Walters conceded the same scenario could apply in 2019 if Inglis was keen to stay at left centre, where he has played the majority of his 32-game Maroons career.

"We've got to look at the team too. We are not overly flushed with centres, unless someone jumps out of the ground this year," he said.

"We've got some younger ones coming through in our system but not a lot right now… so we may need to play Greg in that position. It is something we'll look at when it comes time to select the team."

Walters has multiple options in the key positions for this year's State of Origin series and his simple message to the candidates is to "make sure you are in form".

Through the Maroons' years of dominance, asides from injury, the selectors had a straightforward task when it came to the spine.

Billy Slater, Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith picked themselves in their positions. Darren Lockyer was the first selected until he retired in 2011 and then Cooper Cronk moved seamlessly into the halves to partner Thurston.

The landscape changed last year with the representative retirements of Thurston, Cronk and Smith.

Slater's retirement now has Walters in search of a new custodian, with Queensland captain Inglis the frontrunner.

In the halves in particular, Walters has a raft of possible candidates.

Cameron Munster and Dally Cherry-Evans are the incumbents and won game three together last year.

Ben Hunt, Michael Morgan and Anthony Milford have played for Queensland in the halves in recent series while Kalyn Ponga, who was outstanding as a utility on debut last year, is set to play at five-eighth for the Knights this year and will also stake his own claim for a playmaking role.

Kalyn Ponga made a stunning State of Origin debut in 2018.
Kalyn Ponga made a stunning State of Origin debut in 2018. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

"It is a great headache to have. We'll pick the best 17 players and find positions for them," Walters told NRL.com.

"What I want, and what the team needs, is for all those players to be playing well and in form.

"Leading into game one of the Origin series last year we had the Cowboys on the bottom of the table, the Broncos were struggling and the Storm hadn't quite hit their straps.

"That was the problem for us, not the other way where players were in form. We also had the injury to Billy Slater. Matt Gillett was unavailable totally. Josh McGuire had missed six weeks and Michael Morgan had a hernia problem.

"The good thing is we do have options. I am really confident with the players we do have that we can win the series."

Munster has spoken of his desire to be a world-class fullback but Storm captain Cameron Smith indicated recently he was set to stay at five-eighth for Melbourne.

If fit and in form, Munster and Cherry-Evans are favoured to remain Queensland's halves but Walters said the versatility of Munster and Ponga did give the team options.

"We have got to find a fullback but I don't envisage too much change to our spine," Walters said.

"Munster is the current Queensland five-eighth so until something changes, that won't change, but I'd have no hesitation at playing Munster in the centres, at fullback or in the halves for Queensland.

"I think he is that good a player, and Kalyn Ponga is probably no different. They can play multiple positions and we have seen this in the past for Queensland. Players are happy so long as they have got the Maroons jumper on.

"Darius Boyd played fullback, centre and wing for Queensland and Greg Inglis has as well. Where they are playing for their clubs is not going to define where they play at Origin level and that has always been my philosophy, and before that with Mal [Meninga] as well."