The New South Wales Blues have announced their team for Game 1 of the 2017 State of Origin series, and as usual there is a mix of surprises along with the totally anticipated selections.
Thankfully there is no repeat of the silliness from last year, when a 19-player squad – without positions – was named. Instead, a solid team of 17 players has been announced (albeit with three extra squad members), and on paper, it looks strong.
Strong enough to defeat Queensland at Suncorp Stadium? That very much remains to be seen.
1. James Tedesco
After an impressive debut in game III of last year’s series, ‘Teddy’ retains the fullback spot for the opening game of this year. In the aforementioned game, the Tigers fullback ran for 258 metres – the most of any player – and if he can manage half of that in Brisbane, the Blues hierarchy will be happy.
2. Blake Ferguson
Ferguson’s size and strength, along with his combination with Dugan, give NSW one of their few advantages over Queensland. He’s big, strong and athletic – summing up the modern day winger – and if given enough ball, he will turn opportunities into points.
3. Josh Dugan
Though he has played a few games at fullback for NSW, Dugan will play in the centres this time, and along with his mate Ferguson on the wing, will look to terrorise the Maroons on the right hand side of the field, in much the same way they did the Kiwis in the recent Anzac Test. Always an attacking x-factor, the Blues will hope he can bust the game open for NSW.
4. Jarryd Hayne
I cannot believe there were any suggestions Hayne shouldn’t be picked. Unless his injury issues were a real concern, he should be the first Blue selected, for mine. He’s always played well at this level, and he’s a player the Maroons fear. A no-brainer selection, if ever there was one.
5. Brett Morris
Now very much an Origin veteran, the Bulldogs back earns another sky blue jersey, this time on the wing. Though there were calls for NSW to move on from Morris – considering the lack of team success he’s had at this level – the truth is, he’s rarely let anyone down, and hardly been the reason for the Blues’ years of futility.
6. James Maloney
The reigning Dally M five-eighth of the year is once again in sensational form for the Sharks and would have been one of the easier choices by the NSW selectors. Especially after he performed relatively well in last year’s Origin series. The Maroons will attempt to target him in defence, but that challenge will be nothing new for Maloney.
7. Mitchell Pearce
The soufflé rises again. There is nothing more to be said about Pearce’s selection. On form – and with no other viable candidates for the halfback spot – his selection is warranted. Yet for all the talk of his maturing and being a different player, if he has an ordinary game, the knives will be out, and the narrative that he isn’t up to Origin will have another chapter worth of evidence.
8. Aaron Woods
I’m sure Woods is looking forward to the peace and quiet an Origin series will afford him. He’s probably the only player in the series who will face less media scrutiny than he does at his club. Depending on whom you speak to, the front-rower is either overrated or underrated, but either way, he’ll be relied upon to set the tone for the Blues in the middle of the park.
9. Nathan Peats
The fiery No.9 gets his chance at Origin level with a well-deserved call-up; one he may have thought would never come, after years of chat, but consistent selections of Robbie Farah. He’ll have to put some off-field disruptions about his contract situation behind him, because Origin is no place to be distracted.
10. Andrew Fifita
Whether you like him or not, Fifita makes an impact on a game. And when it’s a positive one, he’s one of the few front-rowers in rugby league history that can be a game-winner. He’s hard to bring down, and can pop balls away after he has drawn multiple defenders. As ever, he just needs to cut down on the mental mistakes.
11. Josh Jackson
Jackson continues to be slightly underrated, despite being named the Blues player of the series in 2016, and being a consistent performer at club level. He doesn’t do anything too flashy – apart from the odd bone-crunching tackle – but he’s about as dependable as they come, and makes few mistakes. Handy qualities against a team like Queensland.
12. Boyd Cordner (c)
The athletic Roosters second-rower gets the Blues captaincy, which will undoubtedly set a new tone in the NSW camp and establish a new culture. For better or worse – and I think it’s the former – Cordner is not his predecessor, Paul Gallen. Look for him to lead by example and get through a mountain of work in both attack and defence.
13. Tyson Frizell
The Dragons’ wrecking ball certainly didn’t look out of depth when he made his Origin debut last year and has continued the good form this season. He looks to be a long-term NSW player, and along with his fellow back-rowers makes for a definite NSW strongpoint. Mind you, the Blues back row has never been the problem.
14. David Klemmer
Fiery, intense, talented and just a little bit crazy, Klemmer was born to do one thing: play Origin football. He has no issues mixing it up with the Maroons – either physically or verbally – and if used in short spurts off the bench, he could be the man who turns the game on its head with a big tackle, lippy sledge or barnstorming run. Or all three.
15. Wade Graham
Considering his talent, it’s hard to believe Graham has played just the one Origin match; last year’s dead rubber. He was originally pencilled in to make his debut in Game 2, but was suspended. This year, he gets a chance to make an impact in a live series, and NSW will be hoping he can bring an impact to the game from off the bench, adding to the Blues’ impressive back-row squad.
16. Jake Trbojevic
One of the rare players to make his international debut before his state debut, Trobjevic gets his chance at Origin level next Wednesday. Capable of playing lock or prop, Trbojevic will certainly provide some muscle and go-forward when he enters the fray, ensuring there is little letup from NSW in the middle of the park.
17. Jack Bird
Bird will fill the utility role for NSW, and his ability to cover a multitude of positions makes him the perfect candidate. Though I usually don’t like selecting a utility unless you have a specific strategy for using them, the concussion laws ensure it’s savvy to have a replacement back anyway.
18th man: Matt Moylan
Moylan is not in the greatest of form, but clearly showed enough in last year’s series to warrant picking him in the squad. He may still be needed in the series yet, so best to keep his confidence high, and let him know he’s close to selection.
19th man: Jordan McLean
The big Storm forward is strong, aggressive and doesn’t mind doing the dirty work. Not an easy opponent to face, he was recently the 18th man in the Anzac Test, and will once again be around – but not in – the team.
20th man: Jack de Belin
The Dragons forward earns a spot in the Origin squad and, in the process, puts a good argument forward for why the City versus Country match will be a great loss. De Belin impressed mightily in that game, but to be fair, he’s been impressive all season for the surprising Dragons. Big and talented, de Belin can play almost anywhere in the forward pack, making him a valuable commodity in the squad for Laurie Daley, if injuries do pave the way for him to make his debut.