Queensland selector Darren Lockyer says the Maroons are toying with the idea of unleashing superstar fullback Kalyn Ponga at five-eighth in the State of Origin opener if first-choice No.6 Cameron Munster isn’t fit.
Lockyer said it was still the hope that both players would be available, which would likely result in Ponga donning the No.1 and Munster taking his usual place at five-eighth, but they’ve both been sidelined since Round Nine.
Ponga suffered an adductor injury in the Knights’ win over the Raiders, while Munster sprained a foot in the Storm’s 50-0 thumping of the Rabbitohs.
While Ponga is expected to be fit for Origin, there is growing speculation that Munster will not be ready, forcing the Queensland selectors to seriously consider a Plan B.
Lockyer says one factor adding weight to Ponga at five-eighth is the fact that Titans weapon AJ Brimson is a terrific back-up option at fullback.
“Brimson’s been playing football and he’s going good at the Titans there,” Lockyer said on Nine’s 100% Footy.
“Ponga is a talent. I remember we were hesitant when he was making his (Origin) debut. He had to come on early in the middle of the field and he withstood all the pressure that came with that role. It was an amazing debut.
“So he’s capable, but at the time, there’s not a lot of match fitness there for Kalyn and to put him up in the front line would be a huge challenge.
“But that might be where we end up.
“Brimson’s always going to be a running fullback and he’s a little bit similar to (James) Tedesco, where he’ll be around the ball and he’s a danger. When he’s on the field and you’ve got a bit of momentum he can make something happen.”
Although Ponga has settled as a fullback he was tested at five-eighth during Nathan Brown’s post as Knights coach.
St George Illawarra skipper Ben Hunt and teammate Corey Norman are other potential contenders to play five-eighth if Munster is missing.
Lockyer revealed his entire Queensland 17 in this week’s edition of 100% Footy, which made for riveting television in light of his position as a Maroons selector.
The panel joked that the 17 he had revealed would be the 17 running out in Queensland jumpers at AAMI Park for the series-opener on June 9.
But the former 36-game Maroons champion played down the significance of the reveal, saying “things can change very quickly”, which is especially true amid the ARLC’s relentless crackdown on high shots.
Lockyer also made the radical call to name two small men on the Queensland bench, in Brimson and Melbourne hooker Harry Grant.
“Flexibility is key. So if you get a HIA to an outside back you’ve got to make sure you’ve got that covered … If someone goes down on the wing or at fullback, then you’ve got Brimson there,” Lockyer said.
“And I think Harry Grant, on the back of not playing a lot of football of late, couldn’t play … 80 minutes of Origin.
“Last year he was the game-breaker in Game Three when he came off the bench. He had that spark about him when the game had the edge taken off it. I think you need to retain that and that means two small men on the bench.
“I think if the big guys are willing to put their hand up and say they can play some long minutes, then having two small blokes on the bench isn’t a big issue.”
Lockyer named two Origin debutants in his Queensland side, in Parramatta hooker Reed Mahoney and Brisbane forward Tom Flegler.
The dual Golden Boot winner made a total of six changes to the Maroons side that defeated the Blues 20-14 in last year’s decider.
Lockyer named Ponga, Brimson, Mahoney, Flegler, Titans second-rower David Fifita and Broncos winger Xavier Coates to pull on a Queensland jersey – all of whom were absent from the 2020 decider.
Those six men are his replacements for Storm recruit Brenko Lee (calf), Knights winger Edrick Lee (foot), retired Roosters hooker Jake Friend, Roosters prop Lindsay Collins (knee), Bulldogs fullback Corey Allan and Raiders front-rower Josh Papalii (suspension).