He believes a four-prop rotation works best, but Raiders front rower David Shillington says he couldn’t blame the Blues selectors for picking mobility over size with just two specialist bookends in this year’s Origin opener.
The Maroons have selected Shillington to fill the starting role of retired Queensland champion Petero Civoniceva, and the Australian Test prop predicted Raiders back-rower Josh Papalii was destined to make his Origin debut soon after being invited into camp with an extended Queensland squad.
Shillington said he hoped to form a long-term front row partnership Matt Scott, carrying on the Queensland legacy of Civoniceva and Steve Price.
But quizzed on the selection of the Blues pack – which has opted for backrower Paul Gallen up front – Shillington said the Maroons still faced a massive task.
James Tamou and Cronulla’s Andrew Fifita are the only specialist props in the NSW squad.
“I think it’s important to have specialist props, on the bench as well,” Shillington said. “I know even at the Raiders when we’re playing our best footy it’s when we’ve got our four-prop rotation going well.
“But with NSW, the other props (in contention) weren’t really standing out from the pack, as far as their form. They’re all playing good footy, but they weren’t making it a no brainer to pick them.
“I think they picked the right team, in terms of players in form. They’re blessed with great back-rowers and that gives them the option to put Paul Gallen in the front row.”
Despite making his Origin debut in the starting team for an injured Civoniceva in 2009, Shillington has played the bulk of his Origin career from the bench.
He said he would welcome the opportunity to take on rugby league’s most ‘brutal’ test from the start.
Civoniceva, who played 33 Origin matches, has endorsed Shillington to take over the starting role.
“He been a cornerstone of this team for over a decade,” Shillington said.
“They’re big shoes to fill, stepping into his role, but because I played with him so long it’s not a huge transition for me. But we’re losing a lot by not having him there and I’ll have to play as well as I can to make up for it.
“Even when I was young watching footy, you’d never want miss those first couple of minutes in an Origin match, just the sheer brutality of it. Now I get to play in it, it doesn’t get any tougher than that.”
Having elected to represent Queensland instead if his country of birth, New Zealand, Papalii is on the cusp of playing Origin too.
The 21-year-old flew to Brisbane to go into camp with the Maroons as an 18th man and Shillington said an Origin debut was close.
Papalii’s huge hit on Manly’s Jamie Buhrer on the weekend was one example of how he is suited to Origin, Shillington said.
“It’s good for him because he’s a pretty quiet fella, he can become comfortable around all the boys and learn all the plays and what it’s all about, then if he’s picked for game two he won’t be daunted.
“He’s such a natural athlete, with raw power. That shot he put on Jamie Buhrer on the weekend, if he brings that kind of power and aggression to Origin, I don’t know who’s gong to stop him.”
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