Picking the three best Indigenous Blues and Maroons in Origin history

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With this year’s NAIDOC Week now drawn to a close and the State of Origin decider looming, the time feels right to look back at some of the series’ best First Nations players.

For this task, who better to judge than two former Origin representatives?

In the blue corner is Ricky Walford, a former leading try-scorer for the St George Illawarra Dragons whose prolific reign lasted during the 80s and 90s.

Ricky Walford has the tough task of picking the Blues’ best Indigenous trio.(Getty Images: Brendon Thorne)

And in the the red — or maroon — corner is former Kangaroo, Maroon and Indigenous All-Star Jharal Yow Yeh, who played 60 NRL games for the Brisbane Broncos.


For Walford, a Bundjalung and Kamilaroi man from Walgett in western New South Wales, casting the net across the generations and polling his three top players was not easy.

Jharal Yow Yeh dives over the tryline as two Blues defenders try to tackle him
Jharal Yow Yeh scores for the Maroons in 2011.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

Meanwhile for Maranganji and South-Sea Islander man Yow Yeh, his task was made all the more difficult due to the laundry list of legendary Queensland talent to choose from.

Jharal Yow Yeh’s top three Maroons

3. Johnathan Thurston

“Of course I had to put him in here, he’s one of the best to ever do it,” Yow Yeh said.

Johnathan Thurston kicks a conversion
Johnathan Thurston adds two more for the Maroons.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

“He was always so cool, calm and collected out on the field no matter what was happening. He just understood the game like no-one else.

“He made it look easy and just had the best footy smarts going around — he could do it all and he has done it all.”

2. Greg Inglis

“An absolute legend of the game, his credentials basically speak for themselves.

Greg Inglis celebrates a try in Origin II
Greg Inglis was a key member of Queensland’s most dominant era.(Getty Images: Scott Barbour)

“His Origin performances alone put him on anyone’s top-player list, then there’s the premierships and playing for Australia and the All Stars.

“He always stepped it up in those big moments and would never back down.”

1. Arthur Beetson

“You just can’t go past him, he’s my favourite.

“That’s where it all started, that great rivalry between Queensland and New South Wales. He was that.

Arthur Beetson carrying the Olympic torch
Carrying the Olympic torch is the only time Artie Beetson would be caught wearing blue.(Adam Pretty: Getty Images )

“He set the standard, that’s the sort of fight and fire you had to bring if you wanted to play Origin and win. I’m somebody who always loved to compete, but he took it to another level.

“He had a beautiful way of playing and that’s someone I would’ve loved to have played alongside of.”

Ricky Walford’s top three Blues

3. Latrell Mitchell

“You can’t go past Latrell, who’s going to be a terrific player for both the New South Wales and Australia in the years to come,” Walford said.

Latrell Mitchell holds his arms up as he looks to the left with a smile on his face. He wears a blue jersey with stadium in back
Latrell Mitchell may one day end up on the very top of this list.(AAP: Craig Golding)

“He’s only 25 years old, so barring injury he’s still got a lifetime left to be one of the greatest of all time for New South Wales and the country.”

 2. Josh Addo-Carr

“You could look at Josh as someone who is going to shape up as a future great of the game.

NSW Blues player Josh Addo-Carr pumps his fists and yells after a try.
Josh Addo-Carr has a sensational Origin record but was surprisingly not picked this year.(AAP: Brendon Thorne)

“In terms of longevity there he’s basically been an automatic selection in the Blues squad the last few years and for good reason.

“Lots of excitement and flair whenever he gets the ball.”

1. Laurie Daley

“Laurie was very inspirational as a player for New South Wales and he’s one of the greatest Indigenous players to ever play Origin.

Laurie Daley lifts Origin trophy in 1994
Laurie Daley lifts the shield back in 1994.(Getty Images)

“He was a natural leader on the field and really knew how to play on the big stage.

“You knew he was always going to put in a big performance at club level but especially for Origin.”

What about the current mob?

With First Nations representation in this series down on previous years, all eyes in that respect will be on Maroons Murri duo, Dane Gagai and Selwyn Cobbo.

Acknowledging the pair’s relatively modest contribution to the series so far though, Yow Yeh said he had faith they could make the difference this time around.

Dane Gagai is hugged by Queensland Maroons teammates after scoring a State of Origin try against the NSW Blues.
Dane Gagai will be key for the Maroons in game three.(Getty: Mark Kolbe)

“I know these blokes personally, they’re good fellas with plenty of talent and skill to burn,” Yow Yeh said.

“I know after the loss of game two they’re going to really want to turn it on this time around. There’s of course been so much hype about Selwyn so far this year with club footy, but as we all know Origin is on a whole another level.

“But us mob know how to really lift when we need to, we thrive at this level and I reckon they’ll both be up to the challenge this week.”

For Walford, the Blues have had a tough run with player availability.

Selwyn Cobbo posing in a Queensland Maroons jersey.
Selwyn Cobbo’s star is on the rise.(AAP: Jono Searle)

“I think we were unlucky this year not to have blokes like Latrell and Addo-Carr make an appearance through injuries, COVID and whatnot,” Walford said.

“Josh, I suppose was a victim of circumstances in terms of the Bulldogs’ performances earlier on and that didn’t do his chances any good for selection. Latrell would’ve been an automatic selection if not for his injuries.

“So we’ll be losing a bit of that Indigenous representation from a Blues perspective and we’ll certainly miss that this time around, but we’ve got plenty of young players coming through right now that should definitely be in line for selection for the Blues for years to come.”

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