On a day when the two front-runners for the NSW State of Origin fullback spot – Brett Stewart and Josh Dugan – went head to head, incumbent Anthony Minichiello insisted his form was good enough to keep his place for the series opener on May 23.
Stewart and Dugan had strong games at Brookvale Oval on Sunday where Manly beat Canberra 18-12, with the Raiders man scoring a second-half try in a tight tussle on Sydney’s northern beaches.
But Minichiello, fresh from signing a new contract to keep him with Sydney Roosters for a 14th season, believes he’s playing better than last year when he was called up to replace the injured Dugan for games two and three.
“I would like to be there, but there are some good fullbacks running around like Stewart and Dugan,” Minichiello said after helping his side to a 24-6 win over Newcastle on Sunday at Allianz Stadium.
“I think my form this year is better than last year. I’ve worked hard in pre-season and learned combinations with Mitchell Pearce.
“I’d love to be there again, but it’s not for me to say I should.”
Blues coach Ricky Stuart said on the Nine Network on Sunday that he knew what his side would be, with the only issues he had to resolve being the hooker and utility bench spots.
Wests Tigers captain Robbie Farah and Canterbury skipper Michael Ennis, who has held the No.9 jersey since game three in 2009, are battling it out for selection after Danny Buderus’ Achilles injury.
Both players led their sides to victory this weekend, with the Bulldogs hammering Parramatta 46-12 and Farah’s golden-point field-goal sealing a 15-14 win over the struggling Gold Coast.
However, Stuart’s comments on Sunday hinted that he would stick with a number of the players that went down to 2-1 series defeat to the Maroons last year.
“Incumbency is always big with me because if players have done a job for me before I know they can handle it,” he said.
“Greg Bird made the team last year purely through incumbency, because I knew what he could deliver. Because I’ve seen him play Origin football before and I’ve seen what he can do in tough situations.
“And I think with teams I’ve had in Australian teams I’ve picked guys who I knew had done the job.”
Minichiello’s comments have given him some hope, but he said he’d received no assurances from Stuart.
“I will respect whatever Ricky does,” he said.
“It was great to come back and play last year. I guess we will just have to wait and see what happens when he names the team next week.”
St George Illawarra forward Matt Prior will learn his fate from the NRL match review committee on Monday.
Prior was sent from the field in the second half at Dairy Farmers Stadium on Friday night for slamming his forearm into the head of Cowboys and Queensland superstar Johnathan Thurston.
The charge is likely to be referred and, although Prior will get a penalty reduction because of the send off, he could potentially spend up to six weeks on the sidelines.