State of Origin champions Queensland’s coach Mal Meninga reckons their depth is so good in 2014 that even skipper Cameron Smith can be replaced.
Depth is looking so good for eight-straight defending State of Origin champions Queensland that coach Mal Meninga reckons even inspirational skipper Cameron Smith can be replaced.
Eyebrows were raised when the man expected to slot in for recovering Maroons veteran Justin Hodges (Achilles) for the bulk of the 2014 series – Newcastle centre Dane Gagai – had a line put through his name after a discipline breach at the recent Emerging Origin squad camp.
But Meninga is confident about Queensland’s back-up ranks, saying the Maroons even have a ready-made replacement for ex-Golden Boot winner Smith – Sydney Roosters hooker Jake Friend.
“Most pleasing is the depth of talent that we now have at our disposal across all positions, thanks to the development work that has been done as part of our future planning,” Meninga said.
“Even someone as irreplaceable to our team as our captain Cameron Smith, if the worst was to happen and he was not available through injury, we have a guy like Jake Friend waiting in the wings who, to me, looks tailor-made for Origin footy.
“And behind Jake, we had (Penrith’s) James Segeyaro in the Emerging Origin program as well, so that gives you an idea of the quality of depth we are talking about.
“There is that quality across all of the positions, and we have a number of players ready to establish themselves as Queensland Origin players for the next five to 10 years.”
Melbourne’s Justin O’Neill and Will Chambers – who have both served as Maroons’ 18th man – are expected to get the jump on Gagai, who Meninga said would have to serve a “penance” for his breach before being considered again.
Meninga admitted a changing of the guard in his experienced squad loomed but moves were already in place to ease into that transition.
“We are now getting to the stage where we will have to start making some tough calls on guys who have served Queensland so well for many years, to ensure we manage that changeover of eras as smoothly as we can,” he said.
“We are going to be relying more and more on the young guys coming through the Emerging Origin program in the next few seasons.
“(But) we had two players from the Emerging squad step up to make their Origin debuts in Daly Cherry-Evans and Josh Papalii, and there is no reason to think guys from this years program could not follow the same path.”