After nine rounds of NRL, the whiff of Origin is in the air.
It’s time for armchair selectors to dust off their notebooks, sharpen their pencils, don the bifocals, and have crack at picking a Blues team that can stop the Queensland juggernaut.
1. James Tedesco
A lot has been made of the form of Tedesco and Tom Trbojevic recently.
Tedesco is playing pretty well – sitting fourth for run metres in the competition – and is the pick of the NSW fullbacks. He’s now played five Origins over two series and with changes in the three quarters, halves and hooker roles, he provides a bit of experience and stability.
2. Josh Ado-Carr
He’s in great form, is scoring plenty of tries, and has picked up immediately from where he left off last season. Many speed merchants aren’t necessarily suited to Origin, but JAC carries the ball strongly out of his own end, can score blistering, long-range tries, as well as find the corner from close.
An absolute must.
3. Euan Aitken
His form is exceptional and he seems to have worked the silly errors out of his game. Strong as an ox and fit, he’s put up some pretty impressive showings against Origin-quality centres.
4. Latrell Mitchell
I can understand if selectors want to have a bit more of a look at Latrell. He’s still got concentration lapses and errors in his game but can be a game changer.
He looks suited to Origin, but if Dylan Walker had spent a bit more time on the field and wasn’t playing 6, I would have given him the nod.
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5. Tom Trbojevic
While he looks out of sorts at the moment – evidenced by the two dropped balls on the weekend against the Roosters – he’s too good to leave out, pumping out impressive numbers.
As for the out of position argument, it’s only a couple of seasons ago he was playing more wing and centre than fullback. Having said that, if Josh Mansour was fit, he may have got the nod.
6. Cody Walker
Walker is leading the league in total try involvements, has more line breaks than any other half, and is playing remarkably consistent footy.
James Maloney commented recently that he finds the playmaking role easier when he’s got sole responsibility, so Walker could be an excellent foil.
If Nathan Cleary is fit, this selection gets a bit more complicated.
7. James Maloney
Maloney is in great form at the moment. His composure and kicking game have helped dig the Panthers out of some tight spots, making him close to a must pick.
Still missing plenty of tackles, he seems to be getting his body in the way more than usual and – believe it or not – he’s ranked 143rd for penalties conceded this season!
8. David Klemmer
Klemmer is third in the comp for run metres and is averaging 162 metres per game – just two metres per game behind Jason Taumalolo.
He has now played 100 first grade games and nine Origins, and with Andrew Fifita not available, he’s ready to graduate to the starting team, having been NSW’s player of the series last year.
9. Cameron McInnes
McInnes’ contribution won’t be measured on the stats page other than tackle count. He brings the defensive qualities of a Nathan Peats, while offering a lot more in attack.
He can keep the middle tight while still running the attack before making way at dummy half for Damien Cook.
10. Paul Vaughan
I picked Vaughan in an article like this in around 2014 or ’15. Unfortunately, he fell out of favour in Canberra but his form has been irresistible over the last two seasons.
His running game, mobility and ability to play big minutes will have a huge impact.
11. Angus Crichton
As always seems to be the case with NSW, back row is the most challenging position to pick. Crichton was the form backrower of 2017 and is picking up this year after a slow start following an off season ankle injury and finger amputation.
12. Josh Jackson
Jackson is arguably the most effective one on-one defender in the competition and can play in the middle third if required. The Blues’ player of the series in 2016 and man of the match winner in a losing team in Game 2 last year, Jackson has shown he’s up to this level.
But to be honest, it’s hard for NSW selectors to put a foot wrong here. Like last year, he probably plays the first 35 minutes and makes way for the more attacking minded players.
13. Jake Trbojevic
Among NSW’s best last season, he is ready to start. Makes tough runs in the middle, is a brutal defender but has soft hands and good ball skills.
Jack de Belin has a claim to this jumper but Jurbo is a rung above in the pecking order with his overall skill set.
14. Damien Cook
As always seems to be the case, NSW have a lot of players capable of playing big minutes. So why pick another 80-minute back rower or 60-minute prop on the bench to deliver more of the same?
I envisage Cook being used in the game-breaking Craig Wing mould that NSW adopted so successfully in the early 2000s.
Hmmmmm… remember the early 2000s?
15. Reagan Campbell-Gillard
RCG is over-rated but I love the way he leads the Panthers pack and does everything with aggression.
Having him and Klemmer on the field on the same team at the same time would be a joy to watch.
16. Tyson Frizell
The Friz has been a bit down on form over the past couple of seasons, with injuries slowing him down and reducing his impact. I’ve been told he’s an impact player but that hasn’t shown up anywhere in his statistical contributions. That said, he’s killing it this year and it is showing up in his stats.
At Origin he’s best suited to the impact role off the bench, but with no qualms about him starting.
17. Tariq Sims
The toughest spot to fill. I tagged Sims as a future Origin player early in his career at the Cowboys but injuries and a loss of form and confidence have delayed his development.
Pretty close to irresistible this year, Frizell and Jackson can rotate through the middle third if required.
Boyd Cordner is the notable omission as skipper. Before I started I had him as an auto-inclusion but when looking closer, he’s been quiet this year.
His average of 112 metres is OK, but well down on previous years. He has ten tackle breaks, with zero line breaks, tries or try assists, and only two offloads. As a running backrower, this return isn’t good enough and he’s far below Crichton, Frizell and Sims.
There’s no way he won’t be picked in real life, but the others have more convincing cases – unless he turns things around pretty quickly.
Jack de Belin is probably 18th man. I’d love him in the squad but you don’t need him, Jurbo and Vaughan.
I’ve left Wade Graham out because of his poor series last year, which has to count for something, but I don’t really have a problem if he’s selected. As mentioned earlier, NSW can’t really go wrong with the backrow – I’d just prefer the others.
Blake Ferguson should be in the ‘never to be selected again’ category, partly because of pre-game beers but mostly because of his ordinary performances in Games 2 and 3 last year.
Dylan Walker would be my preference in the centres but he’s only played a couple of games there after a late start to the season and is playing at 6 for Manly.
I see any of Ryan James, Shannon Boyd, Aaron Woods and Dale Finucane as next in line in the middle third.