If the Maroons’ selectors do not include the Bulldogs’ Ben Barba on the bench for Origin I in Melbourne next month, they have not been watching the footy this year. The man they call “X Factor” has put his hand up so high that he cannot be denied.
I say that as the unofficial president of the “Daly Cherry-Evans Fan Club” and also a great admirer of Matt Bowen.
Of all the other contenders, DCE is an easy one to dismiss. While he may be the best halfback, he does not have the proven combination in the spine like Cooper Cronk. And the national combination will not be split.
I was confused by the Australian selectors including him on the bench to play New Zealand in the ANZAC Test. Surely an impact utility like Matt Gillett would have been much more useful to coach Tim Sheens, who snubbed the farce by leaving him on the bench for the entire 80 minutes.
Matt Bowen is in career best form but has not played for the Maroons since 2007. His 10 Origin appearances off the bench have resulted in four tries, but it appears his time has come and gone.
The Maroons got away with playing Cronk off the bench last year as he was able to slot in everywhere including lock, but DCE is an out and out halfback. He is not necessary with Cronk and Thurston already on the field. Barba, however, is something different.
Every time he gets the ball we have an expectation that he will make a break. He is so strong and so fast. There is no denying that he would be a nightmare for Ricky Stuart and the Blues when he came on.
He can play 1, 6, 7 or 9 and if the Maroons happened to be behind on the scoreboard, there is no other player in the NRL who has the god-given talent to make an impact like the Darwin born Barba.
The opportunity for a “little man” to be on the bench will likely come down to whether the Maroons choose to go big or small.
“Depending on what Mal (Meninga) wants to do with the bench, there are a number of options,” selector Allan Smith said.
The likely Maroon team will be: 1 Slater, 2 Boyd, 3 Hodges, 4 Inglis, 5 Tate, 6 Thurston, 7 Cronk, 8 Scott, 9 Smith, 10 Civoniceva, Hannant or Shillington, 11 Myles, 12 Thaiday, 13 Harrison.
As for the bench, two must come from Barba, Parker, Gillett and two from Civoniceva, Hannant or Shillington, Taylor, Cherry-Evans, McGuire or Kennedy.
Gillett and Hannant are certainties, leaving seven others to fight out for two spots. Ben Barba must grab one of them. Ricky Stuart will drop his head when Barba runs out to face the tired New South Wales forwards.
Like Barba, big Dave Taylor has put his giant hand up for inclusion and despite Shillington being an international incumbent his form all season has been poor, but he will be in a shoot-out with Civoniceva.
My bench would be Barba, Hannant, Taylor and Gillett, but I could only do this if Parker replaces Harrison as starting lock. I would drop Harrison and Shillington and i cannot find a place for Cherry-Evans, McGuire or Kennedy.
We rated Barba the best “bench “player in the world when he was a regular first grader in 2010 and since owning the Bulldogs number 1 jersey in 2011, his attacking stats are amazing.
The Manly defence had no answer to his incisive runs on Friday night. He made 8 tackle breaks and a stunning 200 metres from 15 runs.
Brett Stewart was named man-of-the-match and made 7 tackle breaks and 188 metres, also from 15 runs. It was a treat to witness two world class athletes on display.
Barba played his firt full season last year and with 23 tries was the leading try scorer with Nathan Merritt. He also topped the line breaks with 30 (Slater 17). Scarily, there is no doubt he is a much better player now.
The final make-up of the Maroon bench may be decided by injuries. While I would select Parker over Harrison, the selectors are expected to go with the Titan in the squad.
The concern for Queensland is Matt Scott who is expected back next week, but as good as he is, he is very replaceable. The Broncos pairing of Petero Civoniceva and Ben Hannant should start, which would open up a spot for young Bronco Josh McGuire.
Any talk that Civoniceva is “passed it” is off the mark as he was the best big forward in last year’s third Origin and his recent form at club level has been outstanding. His selection should be a no brainer.
The media are suggesting Shillington will be favoured, even though he only made 52 metres from seven runs against the Sharks in 41 minutes on the weekend.
What do you think, Roarers? Are my selections on the mark?