NSW are in disarray, stocked with injuries, unsure again on who their best XVII is. The doom and gloom is back for the Blues.
It doesn’t take long, but the pressure is certainly ratcheting up in NSW. Eight series wins in a row for Queensland will tend to do that.
For me, part of the issue is the mishmash of selections from one year to the next, and the discarding of players for the ‘next big thing’.
The personification of this is the choice of Josh Dugan over Brett Stewart at fullback. The selection hasn’t happened yet, of course, but largely seems to be a fait accompli if the Dragons custodian is fit.
In every asset, apart from age and speed, Stewart is the better player. The pair are chalk and cheese.
Stewart has scored 136 NRL tries in 178 games while Dugan has recorded 33 in 84 appearances. Stewart has played for Australia and has eight NSW caps, while Dugan has played in three Origins but has not represented the Kangaroos yet.
‘Snake’ has played in four grand finals with Manly and won two of them. ‘Duges’ has yet to really feature in finals footy.
Stewart is a big-game player, he knows how to perform in important games. He has the experience, the nous and the knowledge to get the job done. Dugan is an exceptional talent, no doubt, but he has yet to possess the same smarts or pedigree that Stewart already has.
Dugan has had his problems with injury and off-field discipline, while Stewart has obstacles to overcome and suffered numerous hamstring and knee complaints.
These have meant that the Sea Eagles’ game has changed – early on he was more of a runner and finisher, now he can create and set up teammates as well.
Stewart still has decent speed and an impressive support game, but it’s his role as playmaker that is most impressive. Just watch the 29-year old in recent matches for Manly, he has been racking up the try assists. His return and form has helped propel the Sea Eagles up the ladder.
Dugan is on the way to being a great player and is doing very well at the Dragons this season. His potential is massive. This is not an attack on him.
But Stewart is the obvious choice for NSW, the safe bet.
Jarryd Hayne is a freak and must be in the Blues’ 17. But such is his ability that you can put him on the wing or in the centres, like at the World Cup, and he still might be NSW’s best player.
Part of the reason Queensland have enjoyed such success, apart from their ‘Big Five’, is their loyalty, their ‘pick-and-stick’ method to selections. It builds combinations and understanding between teammates.
Just because a player has a brilliant few NRL games or half a season, doesn’t mean Queensland go and pick him.
NSW have tried out too many players, picked and then dumped them, over the past few years. In the desperate to find a winning line-up they have discarded too many very good players and struggled to build continuity. Brett Stewart is one of them.
If fit, my NSW 17 would be: Stewart (B), Morris (B), Jennings, Morris (J), Hayne, Maloney, Pearce, Gallen, Farah, Tamou, Watmough, Stewart (G), Bird. Bench: Woods, Fifita, Reynolds (J), Hoffman.
It is a team with experience, both in rep footy, in winning titles and in the heartache of losing an Origin series. It should be one very motivated to set things right. It is also a team with some aggression and fire, a touch of youth, but also one that can score points.
Injuries could force Laurie Daley’s hand.
If Maloney is out then promote Reynolds and put Mullen on the bench. Both Reynolds and Mullen have tasted Origin before.
Michael Ennis is the back-up for Farah. If Hayne isn’t fit then Akuilla Uate comes into the equation.
Jamal Idris can replace Jennings if needed, while if Glenn Stewart is out then the likes of Boyd Cordner and Ben Creagh come into contention. Though if Luke Lewis can get back to playing for Cronulla, he is certainly a strong contender.
NSW should not be looking to blood new players this year, regardless of the result in Origin I. Let’s follow Queensland and have some consistency and trust, and really give the Blues their best chance of success.
Follow John Davidson on Twitter @johnnyddavidson