He still preaches loyalty as a core selection value but it seems last year’s State of Origin experiences have left their mark on Queensland coach Mal Meninga.
The Maroons mentor is backing out-of-form playmaker Daly Cherry-Evans as well as injured stars Billy Slater and Aiden Guerra to be firmly in the mix for selection ahead of this year’s series opener in Sydney on May 27.
Meninga says Cherry-Evans and Slater have the runs on the board to not need to put any cases forward before the team is named while Sydney Rooster Guerra is likely to have proven his fitness from a broken cheekbone in time to take his place.
Queensland’s 2014 campaign was dogged by injury concerns as several players came into camp unable to train at the start of the build-up or with little game time under their belt.
The build-up to the decisive game two clash at ANZ Stadium was particularly disruptive, with Cherry-Evans battling a knee injury, Corey Parker omitted due to an eye injury while Cameron Smith and Greg Inglis also went into the match under a cloud.
Meninga says he’s backing his players, but admits last year’s series defeat had shown the importance of settled preparations.
“It’ll depend on the player of course,” said Meninga, speaking to the media to promote the Queensland Rugby League’s support of the NRL’s Vanuatu Appeal.
“It didn’t work so well for us last year. We learnt from those experiences, we’ll make some judgments when the time is right.
“We need to be training well all week. Preparation needs to be good all week for us to perform at the level we need to do to be successful.
“If we can’t do that, well then we’re going to have to make some tough decisions through the week.”
One player who seems unlikely to come into game one considerations is Brisbane flyer Darius Boyd.
Even if Boyd makes an earlier than expected comeback from an Achilles injury, Meninga thinks the opening match of the series could just be too early for the 27-year-old.
Should Meninga be forced into changes, he firmly believes the depth is out there to make up for any absences.
“We have got some really good depth in all positions,” Meninga said.
“Ben Hunt is an example. Michael Morgan, playing really good football at the moment. Dylan Napa, Josh McGuire and Korbin Sims in the front row, Gavin Cooper was part of our emerging squad earlier in the year.
“They’re all really capable players who will do a good job for Queensland.
“First game’s really important. That’s in Sydney. We aren’t all that successful down in Sydney. We’ve only won one or two games there.
“We’ve got to have a fairly fit footy team, that’s really important going into game one. It’ll give us every opportunity to do well.”
* To assist the NRL’s Vanuatu Appeal to raise funds for the cyclone-hit Pacific Island nation, the Queensland Rugby League has urged every club to support the initiative on the weekend of April 18-19. To donate visit www.unicef.org.au/nrl or call 1800 822 542.