State of Origin 2022: Selwyn Cobbo, Murray Taulagi and Corey Oates battle for Maroons wing spots

Selwyn Cobbo wants to show Maroons coach Billy Slater why he should stick with him in Origin III when he faces off against fellow Maroon Murray Taulagi in the Queensland Derby.

Selwyn Cobbo has appealed for Queensland coach Billy Slater not to axe him as the Broncos young gun braces for a high-stakes showdown with Origin wing teammate Murray Taulagi in Saturday night’s Cowboys derby.

The Broncos-Cowboys blockbuster in Townsville will pit Cobbo against Taulagi — and represent the last-chance saloon for Brisbane veteran Corey Oates to clinch a Maroons wing berth for the Origin decider on Wednesday week.

Cobbo and Taulagi were Queensland comrades in Origin II but the Maroons’ dismal 44-12 thumping has turned up the heat on the duo ahead of their wing battle at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.

Cobbo will start on the right flank for Brisbane in the XXXX derby, putting him on a collision course with Taulagi, whose brilliance on the left wing for the Cowboys this season sealed his Origin debut in Game Two.

But the rookie pair’s error-riddled night at Perth’s Optus Stadium has left Cobbo or Taulagi vulnerable to being dropped, especially if Oates, a member of Queensland’s extended squad in Origin II, has another blinder in Townsville.

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Selwyn Cobbo had a tough night against the Blues in Origin II. Picture: Trevor Collens/AFP
Selwyn Cobbo had a tough night against the Blues in Origin II. Picture: Trevor Collens/AFP

After a sizzling start to the season, Cobbo has made six errors in his past two games for the Broncos and Queensland and admits he cannot take his Maroons jumper for granted for the Origin decider.

“I hope Billy picks me in the team again,” Cobbo said. “I’m not sure (if he will be picked for Game Three), I have to perform well this week and hopefully Billy wants me back there.

“I’ve been shocked at how tough Origin is. It’s a different game to NRL. I’ve enjoyed it, but it’s really physical and faster than anything I have ever played.”

There is a view the Maroons cannot afford to take two greenhorn wingers into the series decider at Suncorp as NSW chase a fourth Origin crown in five years.

The Blues appeared to target Cobbo and Taulagi in Origin II, with NSW centre Matt Burton peppering Queensland’s back three with a series of towering bombs, one of which the Cowboys winger grassed.

Oates, also a left winger, is breathing down Taulagi’s neck.

Murray Taulagi made his debut for the Maroons in Origin II. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Murray Taulagi made his debut for the Maroons in Origin II. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

The Broncos veteran is in the best form of his career.

Aside from 12 tries in 14 matches, the 27-year-old is averaging 178 metres per game and would give Slater the comfort of eight Origin appearances for the Maroons since his Queensland debut in 2019.

Three wingers into two Maroons spots won’t work. Someone will miss out, but Cowboys coach Todd Payten urged Slater to retain Taulagi for Queensland’s revenge mission in Game Three.

“Murray was pretty strong in Origin apart from that one error,” Payten said.

“They were kicking down the other edge to nullify Murray’s carries out of his own end.

“I thought he was pretty strong and he didn’t look out of his depth at all.

“I was disappointed for him around the error he made, but overall it was a solid debut and I hope he is there for Game Three.”

Corey Oates is pushing hard for a starting spot on the wing in Game III. Picture: Chris Hyde/Getty Images
Corey Oates is pushing hard for a starting spot on the wing in Game III. Picture: Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Shock contender for Maroons Origin recall

-Travis Meyn

Titans star David Fifita has bolted back into State of Origin contention as doubt hovers over the availability of Maroons veteran Felise Kaufusi.

Kaufusi has made a mercy dash to the United States to be with his father, Taniela, who was hospitalised in Los Angeles after contracting an infection while holidaying in Hawaii.

Kaufusi missed Melbourne’s round 16 game against Manly on Thursday night and his return to Australia is unknown.

Queensland coach Billy Slater will on Sunday night select his Maroons team for Wednesday week’s blockbuster Origin series decider against NSW at Suncorp Stadium.

And he could be on the hunt for a new backrower if 14-Origin veteran Kaufusi does not return to Australia in time to take on the Blues.

David Fifita will return from injury in Round 16 and could be brought straight back into Maroons camp. Picture: Getty Images.
David Fifita will return from injury in Round 16 and could be brought straight back into Maroons camp. Picture: Getty Images.

Slater drafted Titans forward Beau Fermor into Camp Maroon for Game Two as one of Queensland’s reserve players, blooded Cowboys sensation Jeremiah Nanai off the bench this year and has Dragons backrower Jaydn Su’A as another option.

But five-game Maroons representative Fifita has recovered from back-to-back knee injuries and will make his return in Friday night’s clash against the Knights in Newcastle.

If Fifita has a big game against Newcastle, he could bolt into the mix for an Origin recall due to his unique game-breaking ability after the Maroons were hammered 44-12 in Perth.

Fifita played the opening two Origin games in 2021, but missed out on Game III. Picture: Getty Images.
Fifita played the opening two Origin games in 2021, but missed out on Game III. Picture: Getty Images.

After missing six of the Gold Coast’s past seven games, Titans coach Justin Holbrook is hoping Fifita can spark his last-placed team into form.

“He’s looking good, he will be a big lift for us. You’re always going to be better when you’ve got your best players on the field,” he said.

“It’s been a tough run for him with that knee injury. He is right with the knee but his match fitness is not right, which is why he’s coming off the bench. It will be good to have him back out there for us.

“I think he’ll have a big game no matter what. He’s only played once in the last six or so weeks. It’s a big ask (to play Origin) but I’ll leave that up to Billy.”

The Titans are in wooden spoon contention with only three wins from 15 games.

They have lost 10 of their past 11 games, but Holbrook has resisted making mass changes despite his team’s finals hopes all but dashed.

With Jamayne Isaako and Jarrod Wallace headed to the Dolphins next year and several players underperforming, Holbrook said he would look to the future if the Titans couldn’t salvage their season in the coming weeks.

“Yeah, definitely, that’s what I’ll look at,” he said.

Billy Slater brought Beau Fermor into Origin camp for Game II and could be another option. Picture: Getty Images.
Billy Slater brought Beau Fermor into Origin camp for Game II and could be another option. Picture: Getty Images.

“At the moment I’m just picking the best side to win. The guys played really well against Cronulla (18-10 loss) and we were thereabouts. To throw Dave Fifita back in the side will be a big lift for us.

“If it doesn’t go the way we want in a few weeks down the track (I’ll make changes). We’ve got to be careful as well, we’ve got young guys in key positions already so it’s hard to throw a team of young guys out there.

“If things aren’t going our way we will make changes. It’s difficult when you’ve got players out like Jayden Campbell and David Fifita, you don’t have many choices.

“I’m not giving up hope. I know you’re going to say that’s a silly answer but we’ve got nine games to go and know we’ve got to win them.

“We’re really concentrating on Newcastle and then we have another week off before playing the Broncos at home.

“We’ve got to jag some wins and get on a roll.”

Exclusive: Family accident could rule star out

-Peter Badel

Queensland’s Origin preparations have suffered a jolt after a freak family mishap in Hawaii has left key Maroons forward Felise Kaufusi racing the clock to play in the Suncorp decider.

Kaufusi’s availability for Game Three on Wednesday week is uncertain after the Melbourne and Maroons hardman made a mercy dash to America on Tuesday to support his sick father.

News Corp understands Kaufusi’s dad, Taniela, was holidaying with family in Hawaii when he suffered a nasty gash to his leg, which became badly infected.

Kaufusi Snr was flown to a hospital in Los Angeles where he has been admitted to an Intensive Care Unit, prompting Maroons forward Felise to book an urgent flight to the US in the wake of Queensland’s 44-12 loss to NSW in Origin II last Sunday night.

Kaufusi will miss Melbourne’s clash with Manly at Brookvale on Thursday night and the timing of his return to Australia will hinge on his father’s condition.

Felise Kaufusi has flown to the US to be with his ill father. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Felise Kaufusi has flown to the US to be with his ill father. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Queensland coach Billy Slater will finalise his team for Origin III on Sunday night.

Slater is expected to name Kaufusi in the back row, but the Maroons may have to consider a Plan B if the premiership-winning veteran fails to return home before kick-off on July 13.

Melbourne football boss Frank Ponissi has been in contact with Slater to discuss Kaufusi’s family ordeal. Asked if Kaufusi will play in the Suncorp decider, Ponissi said: “It’s far too early to make a call.

“Felise has just landed in LA so we won’t know until another few days on when he will be back.

“I spoke to Billy this morning and like the club, he is totally supportive and extremely empathetic of Felise’s position so he will be granted time before any decision (on playing Origin) is even considered.”

Should Kaufusi be ruled out of Origin III, Slater has a number of options at his disposal, including promoting Cowboys teenager Jeremiah Nanai to the starting side.

Maroons coach Billy Slater won’t rush a decision on Felise Kaufusi for Origin III. Picture: Paul Kane/Getty Images
Maroons coach Billy Slater won’t rush a decision on Felise Kaufusi for Origin III. Picture: Paul Kane/Getty Images

Former Queensland Origin lock Scott Sattler said Slater should consider Dragons back-row hit man Jaydn Su’A, who returned from injury a fortnight ago and played a key role in the Maroons’ epic series win in 2020.

“I am a big Jaydn Su’A fan,” Sattler said. “He has been in the Origin arena before and delivered so I would be looking at him if Kaufusi is unavailable.

“I don’t know if Nanai is ready for a starting spot.

“Jaydn has started in Origin before and he loves the confrontation of Origin, he is one of the best hitters in the game and he runs good lines on an edge.

“Jaydn has that defensive mentality, he would bring a harder edge to the Queensland pack.”

Originally published as State of Origin 2022: Selwyn Cobbo, Murray Taulagi and Corey Oates battle for Maroons wing spots