Queensland head to Suncorp Stadium on June 21 with a view to wrapping up this year’s Ampol State of Origin series but injuries to two key forwards have thrown coach Billy Slater a curve ball ahead of next week's team announcement.
With Tom Gilbert out for the season after dislocating his shoulder in Game One and Jai Arrow set to miss at least six weeks after ankle surgery, there are now two spots up for grabs in the Maroons pack.
Before Origin I, there were plenty of in-form forwards in contention for the Maroons, with some unlucky to miss out on the squad.
Now, players have another week to put their case forward for selection in Slater’s squad which will be announced officially on Monday.
Cotter the Player of the Match
While Arrow and Gilbert are more generally back-rowers, both can also play in the front row and Slater has shown he values versatility in his pack, with Tino Fa'asuamaleaui able to fill in at lock and prop, as can Reuben Cotter, who played 60 minutes in the second row for Game One.
David Fifita's performance at Adelaide Oval ensured he'll be there for Game II but where he plays and who lines up beside him is still in the melting pot.
The second row contenders
Jeremiah Nanai – return of a young gun
If not for suspension, there’s a strong case to argue that Nanai would have held onto his spot in the side that he earned in Game Three last year. The young Cowboys forward returned last week from a four-week suspension with a bang and was straight into the thick of things, scoring a try, making a line break and running for 118 from the bench in his side’s big win against the Storm.
Felise Kaufusi – the enforcer
Kaufusi has been there, done that in the Origin arena as an enforcer for Queensland - but is another player whose discipline has let him down this year. However, while he has been suspended for as many games as he has played this season, Kaufusi’s latest ban will be served out by the completion of this weekend’s Round 15 matches, leaving him free to be selected by Slater if he is looking for some experience to bolster his pack.
Kurt Capewell – Mr Versatile
Capewell started his Origin career in the centres, and could have been handy to have in the side in Game One as Queensland’s backline fell by the wayside. Capewell has been in good form for the Broncos and knows how to win at Suncorp, and added to his versatility could prove an attractive option for the Maroons.
Corey Horsburgh – the firebrand
If it’s passion you’re after, Canberra’s Corey Horsburgh is your man. The former Redcliffe junior has been a key performer for the Raiders, enjoying arguably his career best form this season. While primarily a lock, he can play all across the forward pack and has been starting in the second row in Canberra’s past two wins. Known for being a fiery customer, having both ‘Big Red’ and Tom Flegler in the pack could be risky, but it could also potentially be lots of fun.
Horsburgh's all ticker
Reuben Cotter – Welcome to the back row, Cotter!
Cotter had been playing prop and lock for the Cowboys but blitzed it in the back row in Game I despite not training there in the lead-up. Cotter played 60 minutes in the back row and claimed man of the match honours so Slater could do worse than keep him out on an edge. Cotter was aggressive in attack and defence, making 48 tackles and 84 run metres. Keeping him in the second row could allow the Maroons to bring in another big bopper into the side like the in-form Mo Fotuaika, or move the experienced Christian Welch, who was already part of the extended Origin I squad into the 17.
With Queensland’s overall forward stocks in rude health, there are also a number of other players in form who could potentially get the job done, including Coen Hess and Jaydn Su'A who have both played Origin before, Cowboys forward Heilum Luki, and Eels workhorse J’maine Hopgood.