Instead of leaving my trademark snide remarks in the comment feed, I thought I’d respond to Ryan O’Connell’s breathlessly-awaited announcement of his New South Wales team with my own Blues outfit, accompanied by some (inevitable) observations in relation to our individual choices.
No time to waste: ladies and germs, here is the best New South Wales team one could pick in order to defeat Queensland, who must go in as favourites.
Fullback: Ben Barba
One thing O’Connell said on which we completely agree is that the Blues need to take some chances if they’re to beat Queensland. In the absence of a fully fit and in-form Brett Stewart, New South Wales must give Barba a run.
Yes, there are question marks defensively, but this is a player who is Billy Slater Lite, able to run off the forwards and give his halves a dangerous option in attack.
Brett Morris is a superb finisher but doesn’t have the broken-play creativity this kid has. Josh Dugan has not been healthy and hasn’t shown as much brilliance as Barba through six rounds.
Wingers: Akuila Uate and Brett Morris
Uate is the best winger in the world. Enough said. Morris should play where he’s at his best.
Centres: Michael Jennings and Josh Morris
O’Connell has picked Jarryd Hayne, and in doing so has clearly demonstrated that he is one of many who’ve been suffering vision impairment since 2009.
Hayne has not been the same player for a long time now, and Phil Gould was right on the money in saying he needs surgery – the guy is slow, which says nothing of the questions surrounding his passion and commitment to the game.
I do not trust Hayne standing up to Hodges and Inglis over 80 minutes. Regarding Jennings, I have strong reservations – he still has too many mistakes in him, but given the lack of lethal attacking centres available he has to play.
Five-eighth: Todd Carney
O’Connell os spot on with this one, although calling Carney a “freak” is a little over the top.
Having said that, he’s the Blues’ best attacking option, a man who can lead this team, which can’t be said of Jamie Soward, a solid player who would struggle to stay in first grade without his kicking game. Terry Campese’s not yet back to the guy he was, leaving Carney as the clear choice.
Halfback: Jarrod Mullen
This could have gone many ways, but I will say that it’s tremendous to see someone other than myself tell the truth about Mitchell Pearce, which is that he will never be more than a decent first-grade halfback.
It intends no disrespect to the man – that level is an achievement in itself. But Origin? No way.
Mullen is the only alternative who has made enough of an impact in attack while maintaining good form in every game he’s played. I was liking Luke Walsh for a while, but he’s been quiet recently.
Lock and back row: Glenn Steward, Paul Gallen, Anthony Watmough
Wow. I didn’t expect to agree with Ryan this much, but he’s going the right way here again, with a good balance of ballplaying (Stewart), power grind (Watmough) and… Paul Gallen.
Stewart may have to leave the field for periods, given his injury problems this year, but he’s world-class.
Props: Michael Weyman and James Tamou
Kade Snowden has a lot of fans, but I must say I’ve been disappointed with his legspeed to start the season.
Sometimes young props need to be prepared to increase the intensity of their hitups as they develop – in Origin it’s not enough to gain metres; forwards have to push the defence back if they want to provide their playmakers with any platform.
He could take a leaf out of Anthony Watmough’s book. The other spot was wide open but Weyman just has the smell of Origin mongrel about him – reminds me a little of Martin Bella.
Hooker: Danny Buderus
At his best, Buderus was one of top New South Wales players of all time in this position (Cameron Smith and Steve Walters being the other two).
That said, he is not the same player, lacking the lethal speed and destructiveness he used to possess out of dummy half. But the fact is that the hooking options are thin right now for NSW. This guy has done it before, and will go beyond himself every time he takes the field.
Bench : Tony Williams, Beau Scott, Luke Lewis, Brett Steward
Just when O’Connell had impressed me with his assessment of Mitchell Pearce, he goes ahead and drinks the Kurt Gidley cool-aid.
Gidley has been overrated for a long time – a good player who has never been great, and has proven himself to be anything but the answer at Origin level, especially when injured.
Yes, I know Tony Williams won’t have played for a while, but New South Wales desperately needs his explosiveness. Beau Scott is a tremendous athlete who can play in the centres.
Luke Lewis is Luke Lewis, and Brett Stewart, while not having done enough to secure a starting spot, is a man who can replace Barba if he’s struggling or in a circumstance where Barba needs to go into dummy half, something I’d like to see regardless.
So there it is. Will this team defeat Queensland? I wouldn’t bet on it, when that team can trot out a core like Slater, Inglis, Thurston, Cronk, Thaiday, C. Smith, Matt Scott.
But I can say that, unlike previous years, it has a chance.
What do you say, O’Connell?