This is the team to beat the Blues
IT is time to bring back DCE to the MCG.
Queensland coach Kevin Walters should sweep aside whatever purported problem there is with Daly Cherry-Evans and recall the Manly skipper when the Maroons side for Origin I is named on Monday.
It has been 1071 days since Cherry-Evans last played State of Origin. Ironically, it was at the MCG - the scene of this year's series opener on June 6 - where Cherry-Evans failed to capitalise on his starting role in the No. 7 jumper as the Maroons crashed to a 26-18 defeat in 2015.
But in the absence of Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk, now is the time for Queensland to resurrect Cherry-Evans and give him one final chance to prove his Origin bona fides.
Walters insists DCE is not on the nose with the tight-knit Maroons family but until he is chosen again, it will always be the elephant in the room.
Cherry-Evans may be a polarising figure, but his form at Manly has been outstanding for 18 months. I would pick him at halfback alongside five-eighth incumbent Cameron Munster.
That pushes Ben Hunt to the bench at the expense of the out-of-sorts Michael Morgan. The in-form Hunt has claims to a starting spot, but he has played just eight minutes of Origin and, significantly, has never kicked a field goal in his nine-year, 198-game NRL career.
The Maroons would be foolish to go into Origin I without a recognised goalkicker. They will need every point in this series. Cherry-Evans is the answer. He is kicking at 78 per cent this season and has a proven history of landing matchwinning one-pointers under pressure.
Here is what I believe is Queensland's best team for Origin I:
1. BILLY SLATER
An automatic selection. On the cusp of his 35th birthday, age is not wearying the super-fit Slater, who will become just the 10th Maroon to enter the elite Statesman's Club with his 30th Origin game in the MCG opener.
2. VALENTINE HOLMES
The push for Darius Boyd to play left wing is nonsensical. Boyd has a rare football brain but has been a fullback for four years. Holmes is the best finisher in the code and scored a hat-trick in the decider last year. Case closed.
3. GREG INGLIS (c)
The Maroons icon is running ominously into peak form at the perfect time. He and Matt Scott are the only survivors of the famous 2006 series which launched the Queensland dynasty. His aura and superstar status warrants the captaincy.
4. WILL CHAMBERS
His name has rarely been mentioned in the opening two months but Chambers has been a revelation in his seven Origin games. The Test centre is a walk-up start.
5. DANE GAGAI
Seven tries in as many Origin games underlines Gagai's impact in Maroon. A busy, high-octane kick returner who is now an accomplished representative winger.
6. CAMERON MUNSTER
Produced one of the great Origin debuts last year and has started the season in fine touch with the Storm. Must go to another level without Thurston and Cronk.
7. DALY CHERRY-EVANS
At 29, Cherry-Evans is ready to take charge of the Maroons. He has won a premiership and won countless games for Manly in clutch moments. Has all the skills to succeed in the Origin arena - and, critically, is Queensland's only genuine goalkicker.
8. MATT SCOTT
'Thumper' isn't in career-best form for the Cowboys but the front row is Queensland's weakest area. If he can overcome a knee injury, Scott is the spiritual leader who can lift the Queensland pack.
9. ANDREW McCULLOUGH
No man is more deserving of an Origin debut. Regularly makes 40 tackles a game and 224 matches of NRL experience means he won't crack as Smith's successor.
10. DYLAN NAPA
His form this season has been average but earns a loyalty card after last year's superb rookie series. Tough-as-nails but needs to watch his tackling technique after the recent Korbin Sims saga.
11. GAVIN COOPER
Has been one of the Cowboys' better players in their shock premiership free fall. A no-nonsense customer who makes good defensive reads and will get the job done on the fringes.
12. FELISE KAUFUSI
Welcome to the Maroons family. Will make his Origin debut in Game One in the absence of Matt Gillett and deservedly so after stamping himself as a lethal edge runner at the Storm.
13. JOSH McGUIRE
The Maroons' best-and-fairest last season is confident he will be fit in time after his ankle injury. Even at 90 per cent, the Maroons need McGuire's toughness and work rate.
14. BEN HUNT
Made his debut in the utility role in last year's decider. Queensland selectors will probably pick him at halfback but I believe he needs a full season of dominant NRL football to warrant a starting role.
15. JOSH PAPALII
His axing to reserve grade six weeks ago was the reality check he needed. The Raiders hitman is in good form and is always a formidable sight in Maroon. Can play tight or on the edges.
16. JARROD WALLACE
Relished his Origin debut last year and is averaging 115 metres per game this season. A handy weapon off the interchange with his bullocking frame.
17. JOE OFAHENGAUE
The Maroons bolter. His last two months for the Broncos has been rampaging, giving him the edge over struggling Cowboy Coen Hess. Has amassed 1156 metres this season and at 22, Ofahengaue is the future. Has a great engine for a big man.