When the NRL's twelfth round came to a close last night, the first glimpse of the Ampol State of Origin 2022 was revealed in the form of the defending champions' squad.
Brad's Blues Squad
Coach Brad Fittler had announced his 22-player New South Wales Blues squad at 9:45pm NZ time, and it includes a few debutants mixed in with some serious star power. Sydney Roosters fullback James Tedesco takes the captain reins once again, and he's in impressive form having scored eight tries already in 12 rounds of first-grade footy.
Six potential debutants have been named in the squad, in the form of Stephen Crichton (Penrith Panthers), Nicholas Hynes (Cronulla Sharks), Ryan Matterson (Parramatta Eels), Jacob Saifiti (Newcastle Knights), Joseph Suaalii (Sydney Roosters) and Kotoni Staggs (Brisbane Broncos).
Staggs at centre could possibly link up with Roosters winger Daniel Tupou, and Crichton as centre would likely partner with fellow Panthers teammate and winger Brian To'o.
The Panthers make up most of the Blues squad in a record seven players. The defending NRL champions themselves and the current leaderboard top team have been on form this year, having recorded one loss, 11 wins, and have scored 344 points with 128 points scored against them. It comes as no surprise then that Panthers captain and forward Isaah Yeo, edge Liam Martin, and star halfback pairing Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai (Tainui) should be named as part of the seven Panthers.
Fittler is due to name his first playing squad at around 2pm NZ time today.
Slater's mighty Maroons
It should come as no surprise that a Queensland Maroons legend-turned-new coach like Billy Slater would name such star power himself for the Maroons squad, announced earlier at 11am NZ time today.
Four debutants are among the 22-player squad for game one. Winger sensation Selwyn Cobbo (Brisbane Broncos), having played just 19 first grade games, is one of those four and has been showcasing skill after skill, his speedy plays equal with his try-scoring abilities (12 tries so far in the NRL). Other debutants include Broncos teammate Patrick Carrigan, and North Queensland Cowboys players Jeremiah Nanai and Reuben Cotter.
The Cowboys make up six of the squad, with Cotter and Māori winger Valentine Holmes each earning a starting spot. Along with Nanai, Hamiso Tabuaai-Fidow, Murray Taulagi and Tom Dearden are on the bench and extended bench. The North Queensland side has been called the dark horses for the NRL 2022 season, currently sitting in third place, with eight wins and four losses, and a form of 4-1 in their last five games.
Manly Sea Eagles halfback Daly Cherry-Evans pairs up with Storm halfback star Cameron Munster. Daly also takes the captain's duties for the fourth consecutive time.
Returning to fullback is Newcastle Knights and Te Ātihaunui-a-Pāpārangi player Kalyn Ponga. He missed two of the 2021 series games, only part of the one win for the Maroons in game three.
The third Māori player for this year's Maroons team is Ngāti Pikiao and fellow Knights teammate Dane Gagai, who made an appearance for the Māori All-Stars team in 2019 and has shown no slowing down in impressive performances for his Knights team this year.
The Maroons and Melbourne Storm legend Billy Slater is bringing his old teammates into the coaching side as well, with former Maroons teammates Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston as assistant coaches. The trio was part of a dominant run of eight State of Origins series straight wins from 2006 to 2013.
With Maroons star power of old running through the coaching staff and Maroons' new blood ready to play for their state, Slater will be hoping to start off his coaching career with a first game win on June 8, at Accor Stadium at 10:05pm NZ time.
Queensland Maroons full team
1. Kalyn Ponga (Newcastle Knights)
2. Selwyn Cobbo (Brisbane Broncos)
3. Valentine Holmes (North Queensland Cowboys)
4. Dane Gagai (Newcastle Knights)
5. Xavier Coates (Melbourne Storm)
6. Cameron Munster (Melbourne Storm)
7. Daly Cherry-Evans, capt. (Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles)
8. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui (Gold Coast Titans)
9. Ben Hunt (St. George-Illawarra Dragons)
10. Josh Papalii (Canberra Raiders)
11. Kurt Capewell (Brisbane Broncos)
12. Felise Kaufusi (Melbourne Storm)
13. Reuben Cotter (North Queensland Cowboys)
14. Harry Grant (Melbourne Storm)
15. Lindsay Collins (Sydney Roosters)
16. Patrick Carrigan (Brisbane Broncos)
17. Jeremiah Nanai (North Queensland Cowboys)
18. Thomas Dearden (North Queensland Cowboys)
19. Jai Arrow (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
20. Thomas Flegler (Brisbane Broncos)
21. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow (North Queensland Cowboys)
22. Murray Taulagi (North Queensland Cowboys)
NSW Blues Full Squad (in alphabetical order)
- Reagan Campbell-Gillard (Parramatta Eels)
- Nathan Cleary (Penrith Panthers)
- Damien Cook (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
- Stephen Crichton (Penrith Panthers)
- Tyson Frizell (Newcastle Knights)
- Payne Haas (Brisbane Broncos)
- Nicho Hynes (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks)
- Apisai Koroisau (Penrith Panthers)
- Jarome Luai (Penrith Panthers)
- Junior Paulo (Parramatta Eels)
- Liam Martin (Penrith Panthers)
- Ryan Matterson (Parramatta Eels)
- Cameron Murray (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
- Jacob Saifiti (Newcastle Knights)
- Tariq Sims (St George Illawarra Dragons)
- Kotoni Staggs (Brisbane Broncos)
- Joseph Suaalii (Sydney Roosters)
- James Tedesco (c) (Sydney Roosters)
- Brian To’o (Penrith Panthers)
- Daniel Tupou (Sydney Roosters)
- Jack Wighton (Canberra Raiders)
- Isaah Yeo (Penrith Panthers)