What Queensland is looking for to replace legends
THE challenge in picking any Queensland State of Origin team is not finding the 17 best players, but the 17 best people.
Anyone playing in the NRL is obviously a skilful player, but it takes something more to be an Origin player.
Queensland is in a transitional period at the moment, there is no question about it.
Will we be able to immediately replace Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk?
These are very special players and they don't just grow on trees.
What they bring to the Maroons set-up has been refined and perfected over more than a decade.
But what we can do is find players to fill those jerseys that share the same character, the same belief in what the Queensland jersey stands for, and the desperation to uphold the standards that were set by the men that went before them.
In my early years as Queensland coach, as we went through a generational transition with so many young, new players coming on board, the legendary Dick 'Tosser' Turner addressed the team to teach them what wearing the Maroon jersey meant.
The most important message from Tosser was that, while the jersey might have their name on the back, it did not belong to them. It belonged to the people of Queensland.
They had just been appointed its new caretaker, just like the players who had worn the same number before them.
Their job was to live up to the standards set by those men that wore the jersey before them - not just back to 1980 when Origin began, but going all the way back to the game's birth in 1908.
It is a lot of responsibility. Most Queensland players embrace it, but some of them don't.
That is why picking the Queensland team is not always as cut and dried as it appears from the outside.
Finding the best 17 players is easy. Finding the 17 best characters can sometimes take a little more thought.
Origin football is gladiatorial, but it is also adversarial. By that, I mean the mental battle is just as punishing as the physical demands.
The old saying goes that adversity does not define character, it reveals it.
Origin is the same.
Playing Origin will not teach you about things like commitment, selflessness, mental toughness and resilience. They are characteristics you have to bring just to get a seat at the table.
There have been some very skilful players over the years who have not been selected for Origin because they did not have enough of those qualities.
Similarly, there have been players selected over the years whose true character was revealed by the intensity of Origin, and it still didn't fit the values of the Queensland jersey.
On the other hand, Queensland's Origin history is also flooded with stories of players like Dallas Johnson.
Dallas won't enter too many discussions when conversation turns to the most skilful locks to play rugby league.
But when you ask giants of the game like Smith, Thurston and Cronk about the men they enjoyed playing alongside the most, Dallas would be among the first names they mention.
Dallas Johnson defines what playing for Queensland is all about: Doing your job, giving everything you have, never letting your mates down, and never giving up.
Dallas followed the standards set before him by guys like Rohan Hancock, Wally Fullerton-Smith and Trevor Gillmeister.
The task for Kevin Walters and the Queensland selectors this year is not finding the new Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk, it is finding Queenslanders who share the same character and passion.
It is the character and passion that has defined the Maroon jersey for more than a century, and went supernova when Arthur Beetson led Queensland onto the field in 1980 for Origin I.
They're looking for the next Dallas Johnson.
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