Queensland Maroons: All-Time Greatest Origin XIII
Well here’s an attempt at mission impossible – picking the greatest Queensland State of Origin XIII of all time, considering all the players who have worn the Maroon jersey since the birth of the concept in 1980.
Prior to that, the Queensland and New South Wales teams were picked based on residency. Other than for a few brief periods since rugby league was established in Australia in 1908, the Blues tended to dominate those pre-Origin interstate clashes. The New South Wales competition always attracted more of the best players, with poker machine revenue helping clubs to pay more than Brisbane or country clubs could offer. Gaming machines were illegal in Queensland up until 1992.
Only one Origin game was played in both 1980 and 1981, with Queensland winning both matches. The three-game series format was introduced in 1982 and it has remained ever since. The Maroons have had three dominant eras in State of Origin: 1980-84, 1987-89 and the most recent domination since 2006.
There are many factors to consider in picking a team like this – impact, success and longevity in the Origin arena are the most important in my opinion. Some players that I’ve chosen tick all three of the boxes, some only two.
Not surprisingly, players who featured heavily in Queensland’s dominant eras form the basis of my all-time greatest XIII, but there are still so many legends who have missed out. That’s inevitable when you’re trying to pick just 13 players out of the 190 who have worn the Maroon jersey since 1980.
Just some of the legends who I’ve had to omit include Allan Langer, Billy Slater, Gene Miles, Paul Vautin, Chris Close, Kerry Boustead, Shane Webcke, Cooper Cronk and Trevor Gillmeister. None would be out of place.
I’ve picked players in positions where they played at least a reasonable chunk of their Origin careers, rather than shuffling players into positions they rarely played at Origin level. For example, technically you could pick Billy Slater on the wing because he played there in the 2004 series, but I’ve considered him only as a fullback and had to make a very tough call in favour of Darren Lockyer. That’s not to say Lockyer is necessarily a better fullback than Slater, but at this stage Lockyer’s overall Origin achievements slightly tip the scales in his favour for selection in a team like this. But you could certainly argue the other way.
Anyway, here’s my line-up. Let the debate begin! The stats listed for each player are up to and including Game 2, 2017.
Fullback: Darren Lockyer
36 matches (1998-2011), 9 tries, 22 goals, 2 field goals
Darren Lockyer began his career as a fullback and played the first six years of his Origin career there. He was Queensland’s Player of the Series in 2001 and 2003 when wearing the number 1 jersey. A brilliant attacking player from the back in his younger days, his pace and positional play allowed him to effortlessly slice through gaps at the top level.
He first captained the Maroons in 2001 and took on the job permanently in 2004. In all, he led the Maroons in 22 Origin matches. He was at the helm at the start of Queensland’s decade of dominance in 2006 after he moved into the five-eighth role. He remained as captain until he retired at the end of 2011, except for 2008 when a serious knee injury sidelined him for most of the season. At the time of his retirement, he was Queensland’s most capped Origin player, a record broken by Cameron Smith in 2016.
Winger: Dale Shearer
26 matches (1985-87, 1989-93, 1995-96), 12 tries
Dale ‘Rowdy’ Shearer made his State of Origin debut as a teenager during his first season with Manly in 1985. He had a long and successful Origin career, holding the Maroons try-scoring record for sixteen years after his retirement until Greg Inglis finally broke it in 2012.
While he mainly played on the wing at Origin level, Shearer was versatile enough to cover both fullback and five-eighth during his Maroons career. He was also one of the experienced campaigners who Paul Vautin called on during Queensland’s famous 3-0 1995 series win during the Super League war. He played in the first match of that series, before injury ruled him out of Games 2 and 3.
Centre: Mal Meninga
32 matches (1980-86, 1989-1994), 6 tries, 69 goals
‘Big Mal’ Meninga played in the very first Origin match in 1980 on the day of his 20th birthday, calmly toe-poking 7 goals from 7 attempts in Queensland’s historic 20-10 victory. He went on to become a mainstay of the Maroons during their period of Origin dominance in the early 1980s, forming a lethal attacking combination firstly with Chris Close and later with Gene Miles.
Three broken arms playing for Canberra then derailed his representative career for two years. He triumphantly returned in 1989, helping the Maroons to a 3-0 clean sweep, their third series win in a row. Meninga became Queensland’s captain in 1992 after the retirement of Wally Lewis. He held the Maroons’ point-scoring record for 20 years after his retirement, until Johnathan Thurston broke it in 2014.
Centre: Greg Inglis
30 matches (2006-16), 18 tries
Greg Inglis is currently the all-time leading try-scorer in State of Origin history, locked in a running battle with Darius Boyd that will likely continue for a few more years yet. Although he was born in Kempsey in New South Wales, he finished his schooling in Queensland and controversially pledged his allegiance to the Maroons. He made his Origin debut at 19 in 2006 at the start of Queensland’s record-breaking run of 8 series wins in a row, scoring two tries on the wing.
A natural athlete, Inglis has the size, speed and ball skills to make him a constant attacking threat wherever he plays in the backline. He missed the 2017 series due to a serious knee injury, but it’s fair to say we probably haven’t seen the last of ‘GI’ in the Origin arena.
Winger: Darius Boyd
28 matches (2008-17), 17 tries
Darius Boyd has had the privilege of being on the end of one of the greatest backlines of all time during Queensland’s decade of dominance. Cool, calm and unflappable under pressure, the amount of talent Queensland has had at its disposal for the majority of Boyd’s career has seen him slot seamlessly onto the wing. He’s very safe under the high ball and a great finisher.
With the retirements of Queensland legends in the coming years, Boyd will be a key part of the transition to the next generation. His experience and ability to play several positions in the backline will likely see him permanently moved closer to the action.
Five-eighth: Wally Lewis
31 matches (1980-91), 7 tries
‘The King’ Wally Lewis dominated the State of Origin arena for more than a decade, after playing as a 20-year-old lock in the very first match in 1980. It was the only time in his 31 Origin appearances that he didn’t lead the team out as captain. After that game, he made the Maroons’ number 6 jersey his own for the next 11 seasons, winning an incredible 8 man-of-the-match awards.
Wally helped to inspire the drama and theatre of State of Origin, like the infamous Lang Park crowd can throwing incident after referee Mick Stone sent him to the sin bin for back chat in 1988. There was also his famous stand-off with Blues’ enforcer Mark Geyer in the 1991 series, the last of his career. Fittingly, he went out a winner with Queensland winning Game 3 14-12 at Lang Park to take the series 2-1. The Wally Lewis Medal for the Player of the Series in State of Origin today is named in his honour.
Halfback: Johnathan Thurston
37 matches (2005-17), 5 tries, 100 goals, 2 field goals
Johnathan Thurston’s toughness and durability is shown by his record of 36 consecutive State of Origin appearances until injury forced him out of Game 1 in 2017. He is the all-time leading point scorer in Origin history and was the only Maroon to play in all 24 matches of Queensland’s eight-year winning streak from 2006 to 2013.
After playing halfback for the first seven years of his Origin career, he seamlessly moved to five-eighth for the good of the team after Darren Lockyer’s retirement. He went out a winner in State of Origin, nailing a pressure conversion with two minutes to go in Game 2 of the 2017 series to break a 16-all deadlock. A shoulder injury that he bravely carried for much of that match ultimately ended his Origin career ahead of Game 3.
Prop: Arthur Beetson
1 match (1980)
Arthur Beetson only played one Origin match, but it was arguably the most important one. If Queensland hadn’t won that first match in 1980, who knows what would have become of the concept. Big Artie was chosen to lead the Maroons despite being in the twilight of his career at 35-years old and playing Reserve Grade for Parramatta at the time. He had previously pulled on a Blues jersey 18 times.
It was an inspired selection, with Beetson leading from the front in a passionate and fiery display. He took young Brisbane-based stars like Wally Lewis, Mal Meninga and Chris Close under his wing on that historic night in 1980, setting the tone of State of Origin forevermore.
Hooker: Cameron Smith
41 matches (2003-17), 5 tries
A modern-day ironman in an accountant’s body, Cameron Smith is State of Origin’s most capped player. He could potentially go on for a few years yet and set an unbreakable record as Queensland look to transition from their dominant decade. Smith scored a try on debut in Game 3 of the 2003 series when he was just 20 and has gone on to become not just the Maroons greatest no.9, but arguably the best hooker the game has seen. Always cool and calm, Smith is ideally suited to the pressure-cooker environment of Origin. He became Queensland’s long-term captain in 2012 after the retirement of Darren Lockyer and is a leader of the highest calibre.
Prop: Petero Civoniceva
33 matches (2001-12), 1 try
Petero Civoniceva holds the record for the oldest player in State of Origin, lining up for his final match in 2012 at 36 years and 74 days. It could have ended a lot earlier for him, after he and a few other experienced campaigners were told by new coach Mal Meninga in 2006 that it would be their last series if Queensland lost. The Maroons were staring down the barrel of four straight series losses, but rallied late in Game 3 to snatch a thrilling 16-14 victory, after Darren Lockyer picked up a stray Brett Hodgson pass to score. Civoniceva helped lay the platform for a further six Queensland series wins before he finally hung up the boots, cementing his legacy as a Maroons legend.
Second Row: Gorden Tallis
17 matches (1994-96, 1998-03)
The passion of the ‘Raging Bull’ was perfectly suited to the Origin arena, though it occasionally got the better of him. He was famously sent off in Game 1 of the 2000 series for calling Bill Harrigan a cheat. But there were many other moments where he harnessed his aggression effectively, like when he threw New South Wales fullback Brett Hodgson over the sideline like a rag doll in the 2002 series. His intense face-off with Terry Hill in the 1999 series has also become an iconic Origin image. One of the all-time great second-rowers, Tallis captained the Maroons seven times in his Origin career and always lead from the front.
Second Row: Gary Larson
24 matches (1991-98)
Supremely fit, Gary Larson was a workhorse second-rower who made his debut in Game 1 of 1991 and didn’t relinquish his jersey for the next 24 matches, which shows just how highly valued he was by the Maroons. That record of consecutive appearances stood for fourteen years until broken by Johnathan Thurston in 2012. Larson provided much needed Origin experience in the unfashionable 1995 Paul Vautin-coached underdog team, winning the man-of -the match award in Game 2 when Queensland clinched the series. He was later voted as the Queensland Player of the Series after Game 3.
Lock: Bob Lindner
25 matches (1984-93), 7 tries
Bob Lindner was a player who lifted in the representative arena, consistently turning in high quality performances in the Maroons jersey. He was involved in one of Queensland’s most famous victories in Game 2 of 1989, carrying a fractured ankle for much of the game as the Maroons hung on to win 16-12 and clinch the series. A great ball-runner, Lindner still holds the record for the most tries scored by a Queensland Origin forward. He was voted as Queensland’s Player of the Series in 1993, his last before retirement.
So that’s my opinion for Queensland’s all-time greatest Origin XIII. What are your thoughts?