State of contention: Origin's 'merit' Test team named
RUGBY LEAGUE: If the Kangaroos were to play tomorrow based on nothing but State of Origin form, who would be picked?
It's a question we can now conclusively answer, with Australian selectors naming the inaugural Kangaroos Origin Merit Team after assessing performances from this year's series.
With 43 players available for selection from either side of the border, the panel called up nine Maroons and eight Blues. Unsurprising, Queensland dominates the starting 13 by eight players to five.
Queensland also make up three quarters of the spine, with Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater named at hooker, halfback and fullback respectively.
Game two hero Johnathan Thurston and game three debutant Cameron Munster were both overlooked, with Blues No.6 James Maloney preferred at five-eighth despite fading in game two and being poor in game three.
Blues fullback James Tedesco was named on the wing alongside centre Josh Dugan, with Maroons Dane Gagai (wing) and Will Chambers (centre) making up the remainder of the back five. Valentine Homes, who started on the wing for the Kangaroos in May, can consider himself unlucky to have missed out on selection after scoring a hat-trick in game three and topping the try-scoring charts for the series (four).
There was no room for Kangaroos incumbent Darius Boyd either - an understandable omission considering he was fullback in Queensland's heavy loss in game one before producing an average performance at centre in game two, then missing game three through injury.
Despite starting all three games on the bench for NSW, David Klemmer has been named to start in the front-row alongside Queensland wrecking ball Dylan Napa. The Blues' starting props, Andrew Fifita and Aaron Woods, both missed out on the 17 altogether - Fifita after a dominant man-of-the-match performance in Origin I that was poorly backed up in games two and three.
Klemmer started for Australia in the Anzac Test in May and the prop told Fairfax on Saturday that he was meant to start the Origin decider before Fifita convinced coach Laurie Daley to do otherwise.
Brisbane Broncos star Josh McGuire slots in at lock, with NSW captain Boyd Cordner and Queensland's Matt Gillett completing the pack.
"This is a special squad - the inaugural Kangaroos Origin Merit Team - and clearly it is a very talented squad as well,” Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga said.
The former Queensland coach hopes the Merit Team becomes an annual tradition.
"This has never been done before but I think it is an important step for the national team to make, based on the pathway from state through to international level.
"Overall it will be an acknowledgement of both personal and team performances as well as individual behaviours.”
Only 10 players who featured for the Kangaroos in the Anzac Test held onto their spots, with Boyd, Holmes, Blake Ferguson, Thurston, Fifita, Trent Merrin and Sam Thaiday all missing out. Aaron Woods and Josh Papalii, originally picked in the Anzac Test team before bowing out injured, also missed the Origin Merit line-up.
KANGAROOS MERIT TEAM
Fullback : Billy Slater (Queensland, Melbourne Storm)
Wing: Dane Gagai (Queensland, Newcastle Knights)
Centre: Will Chambers (Queensland, Melbourne Storm)
Centre: Josh Dugan (NSW, St George Illawarra Dragons)
Wing: James Tedesco (NSW, Wests Tigers)
Five-eighth: James Maloney (NSW, Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks)
Halfback: Cooper Cronk (Queensland, Melbourne Storm)
Prop: David Klemmer (NSW, Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs)
Hooker: Cameron Smith (Queensland, Melbourne Storm)
Prop: Dylan Napa (Queensland, Sydney Roosters)
Second row: Matt Gillett (Queensland, Brisbane Broncos)
Second row: Boyd Cordner (NSW, Sydney Roosters)
Lock: Josh McGuire (Queensland, Brisbane Broncos)
Bench: Michael Morgan (Queensland, North Queensland Cowboys), Tyson Frizell (NSW, St George Illawarra Dragons), Jake Trbojevic (NSW, Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles), Josh Jackson (NSW, Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs)