The NSW Blues look to be in trouble six weeks before the 2014 State of Origin series opens in Brisbane, with massive clouds gathering above the halves and front row combinations.
Coach Laurie Daley will already be having sleepless nights as he mulls over worrying form slumps on top of injuries to many of his frontline candidates.
James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce have been well down on last year’s form for the Sydney Roosters, and the premiers are struggling in attack as a result. They’ve still got a few weeks to get their act together, but it doesn’t look good from a NSW point of view as the potential replacements also have question marks over them.
No-one could say that Todd Carney or Adam Reynolds are setting the world on fire, while Jarrod Mullen, who could slot in nicely at No. 7, never seems to get an injury-free run.
The Bulldogs’ Josh Reynolds is the form five-eighth of the competition, so Daley and his selectors could call on him with a degree of confidence if Maloney doesn’t shape up.
A more left-field possibility is Newcastle’s Tyrone Roberts. This young guy impresses me more every time I see him. He is untried at Origin level, but keeps doing the business for the Knights and coach Wayne Bennett when the chips are down.
The front row also tosses up major concerns, particularly as in-form hooker Robbie Farah dislocated an elbow last weekend and the healing process from that is a slow one.
Who would replace him? Parramatta’s Nathan Peats has been a shining light over the first six weeks of the competition and is a rugged 80-minute competitor who could do the job, if only for the one game.
Bulldogs captain Mick Ennis is a seasoned campaigner who could also deputise for Farah if he got the call, but fingers crossed for the Tigers skipper – we need him to get back quickly.
Blues prop James Tamou is well down on his best form and could be dumped if his game doesn’t pick up between now and May 28. It might be time to look at the likes of Tigers’ bookends Aaron Woods and Keith Galloway or maybe Aiden Tolman, a player who has been a rock for Canterbury the past three seasons.
While talking Origin possibilities for NSW, I really liked the weekend’s comeback by Manly winger Jorge Taufua. I have long been a huge fan of this rugged and speedy player who is clearly one of the best finishers in the NRL, and he has a game tailor-made for Origin footy.
Looking at the topsy-turvy results over the first six weeks of the competition, I find myself wondering if there is a World Cup hangover being suffered by several of our so-called strongest clubs.
Take a look at the competition table and which teams are not in the Top 8. Count the number of World Cup reps that came from this group and you may have an explanation for their surprisingly slow starts to 2014. Give the comp a few more weeks and I believe powerhouse clubs such as the Storm and Roosters will grind into top gear.
On a final note, I was over in Auckland on Sunday for the Warriors-Bulldogs game and came away thinking the better team lost on the day. After another traumatic week off the field, the New Zealand boys played their best game of the season but lost out to a Trent Hodkinson field goal.
As stand-in coach Andy McFadden said, it was a step forward for the Warriors. If that game can be used as any sort of guide, I think they’ll be in the mix come finals time.