Queensland Maroons coach Keven Walters is relying on players such as Cameron Munster and Kalyn Ponga. Picture: Dan Peled/AAP
Queensland Maroons coach Keven Walters is relying on players such as Cameron Munster and Kalyn Ponga. Picture: Dan Peled/AAP

Maroons' Origin campaign in state of disarray

MAROONS coach Kevin Walters has issued a rallying cry to his leading stars amid fears the Greg Inglis saga and the Sunshine State's struggling NRL clubs could derail Queensland's State of Origin campaign.

Queensland selector Darren Lockyer and Walters have urged several Origin troops to raise the bar at a time when the Maroons' major suppliers of talent - the Broncos, Cowboys and Titans - are languishing in the NRL season.

Queensland's three NRL teams have collectively won just three of their opening 15 games - a success rate of 20 per cent - in a disastrous start that threatens to have ramifications for the Maroons' 2019 Origin campaign.

The Maroons are facing one of the most turbulent build-ups in Origin's 39-year history in their bid to reclaim interstate supremacy from the Blues.

Walters has lost champion fullback Billy Slater to retirement, star winger Valentine Holmes has quit to chase an NFL contract and Queensland skipper Inglis is weighing up the prospect of an immediate retirement.

Queensland coach Kevin Walters might have to make some tough decisions before the start of Origin. Picture: Peter Wallis
Queensland coach Kevin Walters might have to make some tough decisions before the start of Origin. Picture: Peter Wallis

Chief enforcer Dylan Napa (ankle) is racing the clock to be fit for Origin I on June 5, and Broncos hooker Andrew McCullough and Cowboys duo Gavin Cooper and Coen Hess could be victims of their club form.

Walters is confident Queensland can be Origin kings again, with the sublime form of incumbent halves Cameron Munster and Daly Cherry-Evans evidence the Maroons have key players in key positions firing.

But Walters admits there can be no room for complacency as injuries, Queensland's horrendous NRL club form and the drama involving their most important player, Inglis, fuel NSW's confidence of back-to-back titles.

"We certainly need to lift our game," Walters said.

"There's a few clubs and a few of our players that aren't where they need to be come Origin time.

Daly Cherry-Evans has been in good form for the Sea Eagles. Picture: Tony Feder/Getty Images
Daly Cherry-Evans has been in good form for the Sea Eagles. Picture: Tony Feder/Getty Images

"These are the headaches associated with Origin. We wouldn't want to be going into Origin I next week, I'd certainly prefer our guys build some form in the coming weeks.

"The form of the Cowboys, Broncos and Titans is a concern, there are certain players in those teams who are performing well and others not so well.

"Origin is still some weeks away which is fortunate for us and I expect that form cycle (of some Queensland players) to be reversed."

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STATE OF DISARRAY

Queensland's Origin fortunes. Beautiful one day, perplexing the next

GONE: Billy Slater, Valentine Holmes

FIRING LINE: Andrew McCullough, Gavin Cooper, Coen Hess, Tim Glasby

INJURY CLOUD: Greg Inglis, Dylan Napa

MUST LIFT: Kalyn Ponga, Jarrod Wallace, Dane Gagai, Will Chambers, Josh McGuire, Matt Gillett, Michael Morgan

IN FORM: Cameron Munster, Daly Cherry-Evans, Jai Arrow, Josh Papalii, Felise Kaufusi, Corey Oates

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A number of Queensland stars have yet to hit their straps.

Kalyn Ponga, Dane Gagai, Will Chambers, Josh McGuire, McCullough, Cooper, Hess and Michael Morgan are still searching for optimum form.

However, Walters is buoyed by the early season masterclasses of Munster and Cherry-Evans.

In the forwards, Titans ironman Jai Arrow, Canberra hulk Josh Papalii and Melbourne back-rower Felise Kaufusi have also been strong.

Anthony Milford and his Brisbane Broncos have started the season in disappointing form. Picture: Dave Hunt/AAP
Anthony Milford and his Brisbane Broncos have started the season in disappointing form. Picture: Dave Hunt/AAP

"It does give me pleasure that players in key positions are performing well," Walters said.

"Guys like Munster and 'DCE' have been great and Kalyn Ponga has shifted back to fullback, so that is his ideal position. It's great that Kalyn is back there, that helps us.

"Josh is playing well for Canberra and I like what Jai Arrow is doing at the Titans, so it's not all dark and gloomy."

Lockyer has been surprised by the spluttering form of Queensland's NRL clubs but hopes Ponga's return to fullback can provide the individual spark that helps the Maroons.

"We're not going great as a state," Lockyer said.

"Thankfully, there's still six or seven weeks before Origin I.

"Going back to fullback will take a bit of pressure off Kalyn. Hopefully we can see the best of him in the next few games because he shapes as an important player in Queensland's spine."