MACKAY'S rugby league talent is likely to play a part again for Queensland in this season's State of Origin series.
Maroons selectors are expected to promote Melbourne Storm's Cooper Cronk from the bench to halfback, leaving a spot on the bench for a utility player.
Speculation is rife that Manly halfback Daly Cherry-Evans, Bulldogs excitement machine Ben Barba or Storm centre Dane Nielsen, who all started their rugby league careers in Mackay, could get the call-up for Origin I in Melbourne on May 23.
Two former Mackay NRL stars, Steve Jackson and Owen Cunningham, were picking Cherry-Evans or Nielsen for a bench spot, with most pundits agreeing that Cronk is certain to take the No.7 jersey for this season's series.
Jackson said Cherry-Evans, who has already represented Australia, would also play State of Origin.
"He will play for Queensland, without a doubt," Jackson said.
"If not this year, then next year."
Jackson said Nielsen, who played two matches for Queensland last year, was also a chance of a recall.
"Dane is playing very well for the Melbourne Storm," he said.
"The thing is that Queensland has so many players. Who do you push out?
"Ben Barba is scoring some phenomenal tries for the Bulldogs, but he's got an amazing player in Billy Slater in front of him for the fullback spot."
Barba and Nielsen will both play in Mackay on June 24, when the Bulldogs play the Storm in Virgin Australia Stadium's first NRL premiership match.
Cunningham said he thought Nielsen had a big chance of a recall, and his only concern about Cherry-Evans and Barba was that they were specialist players.
"Dane is a tradesman. He's strong in defence and just goes about his job," he said.
"I think he's in with a big chance, because he's done the job for them in the past and they do stick with proven performers."
Cunningham said he expected New South Wales to make a decent contest of this year's series, in which Queensland will be going for its seventh consecutive win.
"I'll be tipping Queensland to win, but I want to see some good football," he said.
- Origin I May 23, Etihad Stadium, Melbourne, 8pm
- Origin II June 13, ANZ Stadium, Sydney, 8pm
- Origin III July 4, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, 8pm