Maroons make 5 changes


BRISBANE: Reece Walsh has the highlights reel of a National Rugby League (NRL) superstar but it’s his actions after an error that convinced Queensland coach Paul Green to hand the teenager his Origin debut in Sunday night’s must-win clash.
Walsh, 18, will become the youngest Origin debutant since Ben Ikin in 1995 when he pulls on the famous Maroons No.1 jersey at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
The New Zealand Warrior has played just seven NRL games since he was released by Kevin Walters at the Broncos two months ago because the coach wouldn’t upgrade him into the top-30 squad and didn’t think he was ready for first-grade action.
While it’s a huge leap of faith from Green to back the teenager in the toughest arena in rugby league, he has confidence Walsh can handle the job.
“It’s a great opportunity, it’s a great story. He has passed every test he has had to go through so far,” Green said.
“Good players in the past have come up to that level particularly around Origin, so I’ve got confidence Reece will do that for us.
“He has certainly shown he has got confidence and he is not afraid to back himself.
“And a good trait in most good players is if they make a mistake they can get themselves back in the game quickly and he has been able to do that.”
Walsh will be one of two debutants for the Maroons, with Francis Molo to get his start off the bench as Green made five changes to the side thumped 6-50 by New South Wales in game one in Townsville two weeks ago.
Molo, 26, has rebuilt his career since Green signed him to North Queensland Cowboys three years ago and will play an impact role off the bench for Queensland.
The front-rower has fought back from the devastating incident in 2015 when he was banned for eight weeks after his tackle in the Queensland Intrust Super Cup resulted in the death of Sunshine Coast footballer James Ackerman.
Green worked closely with Molo during his time at the Cowboys and has seen him develop as a player.
“He has had his challenges, Frank,” Green said.
“A lot has been said about that, but he has had different areas of his game he has no doubt had to improve and he has worked hard at that over a long period of time too.
“Having known and coached Frank for a while, I know his strengths and weaknesses and I’ve seen first-hand how much he’s applied himself to try and get better at his game and he has showed that at club footy.
“So I’m really pleased to give him an opportunity and it’s up to Frank to give us his best.”
Veteran trio Andrew McCullough, Josh Papalii and Ben Hunt have been brought into the squad with hooker Harry Grant (hamstring) and fullback AJ Brimson (knee) ruled out with injury while Xavier Coates, Joe Ofahengaue and Jaydn Su’A were dropped.
Green is hopeful the return of Papalii, who missed game one through suspension, and more game time to prop Christian Welch, who lasted just 12 minutes due to a concussion in the series opener, will tighten up Queensland’s midfield that was utterly dominated by the Blues.
“Having Josh and hopefully Christian out there for a bit longer will sure up that middle and it’s an area we need to be better in, no doubt,” Green said.
“It’s probably a bit better balanced pack.
“It will hopefully fix some of the areas we need to be better in.
“We lacked a bit of control through the middle and the start, we need to get off to a better start there.”
McCullough has not played Origin since 2018 and, like Walsh, was released by the Broncos earlier this season.
The 31-year-old St George Illawarra No.9 only gets a start after injuries to Grant and Eels hooker Reed Mahoney (shoulder), but Green believes he can handle the return to this level and will add another option to their kicking game that struggled in game one.
“He is an 80-minute hooker and I’m not saying he is going to have to play 80 minutes for us, but he is certainly fit,” Green said.
“He is experienced, has got good leadership qualities and a handy kicking game.
“Obviously, when you’re under pressure, your kicking game suffers because of that.
“So hopefully, if we tighten up those other areas, our kicking game will improve off the back of that.”
Maroons: Reece Walsh (Warriors), Valentine Holmes (Cowboys), Kurt Capewell (Panthers), Dane Gagai (Rabbitohs), Kyle Feldt (Cowboys), Cameron Munster (Storm), Daly Cherry-Evans (Sea Eagles), Christian Welch (Storm), Andrew McCullough (Dragons), Josh Papalii (Raiders), Jai Arrow (Rabbitohs), Felise Kaufusi (Storm), Tino Fa’asuamaleaui (Titans); Interchange — Ben Hunt (Dragons), Moeaki Fotuaika (Titans), David Fifita (Titans), Francis Molo (Cowboys); Reserves — Coen Hess (Cowboys); Ronaldo Mulitalo (Sharks). – NRL