With just three rounds to go until the teams for State of Origin 1 are named, the front-runners for the NSW 17 are standing out.
The Blues have lost 12 of the last 13 series and things have to change.
Under new coach Brad Fittler, there is almost certainly going to be changes – he has said as much.
However, while there have been suggestions of sweeping changes to the side that took the field in 2017, that would be as foolhardy as making no changes at all.
So who from last year won’t feature in 2018?
Firstly, the players who are not available.
Andrew Fifita has declared his allegiance to Tonga and will no longer make himself available for NSW selection. Given his 2018 averages of 18 runs, 132 metres and 3.5 tackle breaks, his absence isn’t ideal. However, absent he will be.
Brett Morris has put his hand down for representative selection, Jarryd Hayne is injured – and would not have been selected anyway – Mitchell Pearce is out for the season, while Nathan Peats is injured and would be unlikely to be picked.
Then there are the players who won’t be selected.
Aaron Woods has had his go. His impact is limited, and while he may get chosen on the basis of experience, I don’t think he should.
Blake Ferguson is unlikely to get a recall following the poor press he garnered last series, mixed with his average form so far this year, while the form of his challengers is very good.
As for Jack Bird, his comeback from injury has been mediocre. He’s played more positions at the Broncos than seen in the Kama Sutra and failed to fire in any of them.
So that is eight of the 17 players who played all three games in 2017 who won’t be there this year.
So who will be?
10. Paul Vaughan
The Italian Stallion’s form has been too good for too long for the Dragon not to get his go. The majority of his runs make eight metres or more and he misses less than a single tackle a game.
9. Cameron McInnes
This is the most contested position in the side, with Damien Cook red hot for the Rabbitohs.
They’ll go with Cook if they want an attacking dummy half, but I think they’ll go with McInnes because of the sheer number of Dragons in the side, and because he is the better defender.
He is capable of 70 tackles a game. He is tackling stupid. He’d tackle his grandma into the grandstand concrete. That is what is required in the Origin cauldron.
8. David Klemmer
People have a go at Klemmer because he doesn’t offload much, but when you are a monstrous unit who terrorises defences, do you really need to offload?
I mean, I guess it’s nice, but it’s not essential.
Klemmer has the highest average metres gained in the NRL this year with 169 a game. That’ll do me.
11. Josh Jackson
I know the Bulldogs have been struggling, but this bloke ain’t the problem. He’d be picked in every NRL side – Queensland would pick him if they could.
A superb defender and leader. Made for Origin.
12. Boyd Cordner (c)
Will be captain again and better for the experience of 2017. He’s a superb player.
13. Jake Trbojevic
The best lock forward since Brad Clyde, although he’s not the same sort. He’s mobile, has great hands, hits the line hard and tackles really well. OK, that pretty much describes Clyde, too.
Barring injury, he’ll be in the NSW number 13 for years to come.
7. Nathan Cleary
He’s the best young halfback prospect since Johnathan Thurston burst onto the scene. If he’s fit he must be the NSW No.7.
6. James Maloney
I know he’s been part of many losing series, but he’s just so good. His form and leadership with the Panthers this season has more than justified the Moylan trade – if young Matt’s indifferent form hadn’t already.
If Cleary is still injured, Jimmy will play 7 and Blake Green will come into the 6 jersey.
5. Josh Addo-Carr
How can you ignore the form of the Fox? If you want to win an Origin series you must score points. Addo-Carr has shown in the last two years that he is not just a finisher, he’s also a spark. Give him a run.
4. Josh Dugan
I’m not the biggest fan of this bloke as a human and if I could muster a case to leave him out of this side, I would.
I can’t. His rep form is excellent. While his Lennox Head drinking partner won’t be with him, I can’t see Freddie leaving Dugan out.
3. Euan Aitken
We all knew this guy was a talent when he first turned up but this season he has justified the hype.
He’s tough as nails in defence and hits the line hard, with good pace. His Dragons form has been superb.
2. Tom Trbojevic
It’s time for Tommy Turbo to come into the side. He is fast, elusive, good in defence and awesome in attack. At 6’4 he’s pretty good in an aerial contest too.
Let him play.
1. James Tedesco
Yes, I know his Roosters form has been patchy at best. However, this is Origin – he’ll step up.
He is a superb attacking weapon and he’s been in the cauldron before. He must play in the No.1.
14. Tyson Frizzell
He has been superb in sky blue. He has been superb in the Red V. He can play anywhere in the pack and excel – you could probably play him in the centres at a pinch. Could also be picked at 11, 12 or 13 too.
Must be in the side.
15. Ryan James
I know this selection will be contentious, however this bloke gives 100 per cent, can play 80 minutes and in every pack position but hooker.
Plus, coming from just south of the Tweed, his animosity towards Queenslanders is heightened. He wants to beat the Cane Toads bad. Give him that chance.
16. Jack De Belin
He’s been coming for a while now but something always held him back – and that whale-spout haircut wasn’t great either.
Jack’s ready now.
17. Wade Graham
If he’s fit, the perpetually smiling second rower from the Shire needs to be picked. He hasn’t put a foot wrong at rep level and he’s a real competitor.
If Graham isn’t fit, I’d love to see Jack Wighton get a go. Like Euan Aitken, just harder in defence, Wighton can cover the whole back five and could play in the back row if necessary.
Their time will come.
I reckon this side will win the 2018 Origin series.