The 2019 State of Origin series is approaching fast. Very fast.
I cannot wait for June 5th, when the mighty Blues run onto Lang Park ready for battle. But who will Freddy call to line-up in the illustrious Sky Blue when they take on the two-headed beast?
With all this Origin talk starting up, I’ve put on my couch-coach hat and analysed the realistic contenders.
(For reference, I’ve compared each position to the Blues’ Game 3 team.)
Fullback: 1. James Tedesco
Teddy is a certainty. He is elusive, fast, powerful, breaks tackles, makes line breaks, and scares the opposition every time he touches the footy. Heaven forbid anything happens to him between now and June.
The only real contender to this speedster was Turbo, who’s most likely out through injury, and even then he was unlikely to challenge. Teddy’s club form has been good this year and we all know how much he lifts for his State.
Wing: 2. Tom Trbojevic, 5. Josh Addo-Carr
Contenders: Nick Cotric, Blake Ferguson, Josh Mansour
With Tommy T likely out, a wing spot is up for grabs. Cotric is a name that was thrown up even last year but, with his patchy form in contrast to the evergreen Blake Ferguson, there is no way Fergo will get overlooked again.
Ferguson’s meterage out of his own half is second to none (averaging almost 200 metres per game in 2019 and throughout 2018) and something New South Wales really lacked in the 2018 series. His height, like Turbo’s, will create more attacking opportunities and protect the flank from Queensland aerial raids.
The Fox is most likely set to retain his position. Although not setting the world on fire, his form has been sound in 2019 and has not lacked class. It appears he isn’t getting as many opportunities this year with Melbourne attacking through the middle and Jahrome Hughes not quite providing as much quality ball as Billy Slater in previous years.
Even still, he hasn’t made wrong step and his explosive speed and change of direction will have NSW supporters licking their lips come Origin.
Verdict: Ferguson (unless Trbojevic is fit) and Addo-Carr.
Centre: 3. Latrell Mitchell, 4. James Roberts
Contenders: Jack Bird, Tyrone Peachey, Jesse Ramien, Michael Jennings
Latrell is a beast made for Origin footy. He absolutely dominated his opposing centre last year and has been running riot again in 2019 when the time is right. An added bonus, he can kick goals (76 per cent for 2019). Despite his positional switches to start 2019, Latrell is an out and out centre and will again pull out big fends like a madman.
Roberts has had a mixed start to 2019, with some inconsistent performances, injuries and off-field issues plaguing the start of the year.
What has worked in Roberts favour so far is that the contenders haven’t really made a statement this season. Bird needs to prove himself after last year, Peachey has been hot and cold on the Gold Coast, Ramien hasn’t had many opportunities for the Knights and Jennings has probably run his Origin race with Freddy opting for youth.
I think Roberts has his nose slightly in front and is definitely up to what the cauldron will throw at him.
Verdict: Latrell and Roberts.
Halves: 6. James Maloney, 7. Nathan Cleary
Contenders: Jack Wighton, Cody Walker, Luke Keary, Mitchell Pearce, Mitchell Moses, Adam Reynolds, Luke Brooks
The Penrith halves combo has been under scrutiny of late with the Panthers scoring 2.3 tries per game (last in the comp) down from 3.3 in 2018 (eighth). These lacklustre performances can’t be completely be pinned to the halves with the new coach, off-field dramas and spine changes all contributing. The team has experience but, ultimately, it is up to the halves to create tries and to win games.
The pressure is really on this year, with Keary continuing his red-hot form for the Chooks, Walker scoring tries at will under Bennett (league-high of seven), the emergence of Wighton as a running five-eighth for the Green Machine and a couple of outstanding performances by Moses in the blue and gold.
It will be hard for Freddy to give Cleary the flick with no real game managers firing (not to mention the kick in the guts it would be to the kid) and his conversion ability (89 per cent). But Maloney is a whole other kettle of fish.
Maloney’s game has been average at best and I just can’t see him donning the blue again. Keary is leading the comp in try assists (nine), has three line break assists and a pinpoint short kicking game to build pressure and create attacking chances. I think he will get the nod, despite his Queensland loyalty comments a few years ago – hopefully that’s out of his system.
Verdict: Keary and Cleary (a commentator’s nightmare).
Props: 8. David Klemmer, 10. Paul Vaughan
Contenders: Jordan McLean, Tevita Pangai Jr, Matt Prior, James Tamou
The form of the incumbent props has also been unrivalled this season. Arguably the best signing of 2019 so far, Klemmer has grown another leg at the Knights, carrying the young pack game in game out. He’s running 175 metres per game (third in the comp, highest forward), 63 post contact metres per game (second) and averaging 36 tackles per game – up from 25 in 2018.
His minutes have also got a healthy boost of 10 per game, proving he’s fitter than ever.
His prop partner, Vaughan, has had a solid start to 2019, leading from the front with the Red V. His defence has been solid, with a 95 per cent tackle efficiency. His attack has also been decent with an average of 157 metres per game.
The only real contender to these two is big McLean up north. With the Cowboys struggling for wins this year, the limelight has really been off the lumbering prop and I think he has gone fairly unnoticed this year.
Tamou is another player under the radar, with his form for Penrith boosting this year. Similarly with McLean, Tamou’s team form has had an impact on his chances. Prior has been solid without doing anything spectacular (despite playing Game 2 of 2018), while Pangai Jr has had some outstanding games, but is unreliable and inconsistent.
Ultimately, the two incumbents probably won’t change from Game 3 2018, with McLean and Tamou a chance of a bench spot.
Verdict: Klemmer and Vaughan.
Hooker: 9. Damien Cook
Contenders: Cameron McInnes
Looky looky it’s Cookie. If he doesn’t get picked I won’t watch. His attacking prowess, explosive speed out of dummy half and decision making is crucial to the Blues (and now Australian) makeup – not to mention his solid defence in the middle. Six try assists (equal fifth), 42 tackles per game at 95 per cent efficiency and a handy 100 metres per game.
This bloke cannot and will not be overlooked.
There is a strong case for the Dragons rake, McInnes. His defence is slightly better than Cook, with 49 tackles per game at 98 per cent efficiency, but his attack, especially this year, comes nowhere near the likes of Cook.
I don’t think many people would have complained if McInnes was picked if Cook wasn’t available, but there is no way he beats the incumbent NSW hooker to the jersey.
Verdict: Cook by a country mile.
Second Row: 11. Boyd Cordner (c), 12. Tyson Frizell
Contenders: Tariq Sims, Angus Crichton, Josh Jackson
What can I say about the two incumbents? The NSW and Australian captain and a Blues mainstay, Cordner is the first player picked in the side and will certainly have the fat ‘C’ next to his name. Frizz on the other hand will literally bust a ball to get into the side.
Sims and Crichton are likely to be picked on the bench, but Jackson, unlucky to miss a call-up last year, has been in decent form and has been there before.
The main thing keeping Jackson out is his lack of ball playing skills and the fact these other guys offer what he has and more. Although Jackson wouldn’t look out of place, barring injury, he won’t be selected.
Verdict: Cordner and Frizell.
Lock: 13. Jake Trbojevic
Contenders: Cameron Murray, Dale Finucane
‘Jrbo’ is arguably the first middle forward picked. He can tackle all day, has hands like a five-eighth, takes the tough carry and is the lynchpin of the Manly team.
He does have a bit of competition with Finucane and Murray in great form. The fact that Jakey T can play prop (and he did in Origin 2018) may move him to the bench to accommodate one of the contenders, but this is unlikely.
It probably is Finucane’s final chance to wear the Blues jersey, but his form has been up there with the best. He is a wall in defence, gritty, tough and will not let anyone down. What works against him is his lack of ball playing compared to Trbojevic but then again, he wouldn’t look out of place.
Blazing a trail to the Origin area is the Rabbitohs middle man, Cameron Murray. This kid has a bright future, has played in some big games already and is knocking on the door for a jersey. But if he is a chance of playing, it will be off the bench.
Ultimately, Trbojevic is a lock-in and I can’t really see anyone else in the 13 jersey for a few years.
Bench: 14. Jack de Belin, 15. Tariq Sims, 16. Angus Crichton, 17. Tyrone Peachey
Contenders: James Tamou, Jordan McLean, Tevita Pangai Jr, Josh Jackson, Cameron Murray, Dale Finucane, Jack Bird, Clint Gutherson, Victory Radley
The bench is a hard one. It ultimately depends on how Freddy wants to play the side. Does he want a bit of size, does he want ball playing forwards, and will he opt for a utility?
Even more questions plague the potential selection. The thing is, even though the starting pack is all but set, a lot of players have put their hands up for a bench spot. De Belin also won’t play, so there is a bench spot open to someone. For this case, I’ve assumed a similar bench makeup to Game 3 of 2018, with three in-form big men and a utility.
With Frizz and Captain Cordner probably being able to play the full 80, middle forwards are probably the go. For one, Sims will get the nod. Despite playing on an edge in club land, he is a big body, tough, aggressive and built for the Origin arena.
Crichton will also get the call up to cover the second row, but also allow Frizz to push into the middle. The new Roosters line running and defensive prowess will not look out of place and will provide some respite for the edge players.
That leaves one more spot for a big man. Murray has been in great form and the young gun is certainly making a big statement for a debut, but due to the likes of Trbojevic and Frizell in front of him in the lock role unfortunately he will get overlooked.
He has a big future and I cannot wait to see him in the Sky Blue. As mentioned in the Prop section, McLean has been a quiet achiever this year and will provide some size and impact off the bench, and I’m sure he will want to bash the Maroons.
Similarly, Tamou would not look out of place but I think his time in the Blue is up.
Utility is a tough one. Despite patchy form, Peachey probably has his nose just in front but the likes of Bird, King Gutho and Victor the Inflictor aren’t too far off.
Bird has been dangerous with the ball at times this year but has lacked defensively. Gutho has been firing of late and can cover the whole backline. Radley has also been going well and can cover the backrow and hooker, but personally I don’t think his service from dummy half is quite up to it.
Peachey will get the nod for his versatility, being able to cover anywhere across the park (except maybe prop). He is exciting and may be that player to rip the game apart with 20 to go.
Verdict: Sims, Crichton, McLean, Peachey
1. James Tedesco, 2. Blake Ferguson, 3. Latrell Mitchell, 4. James Roberts, 5. Josh Addo-Carr, 6. Luke Keary, 7. Nathan Cleary, 8. David Klemmer, 9. Damien Cook, 10. Paul Vaughan, 11. Boyd Cordner (c), 12. Tyson Frizell, 13. Jake Trbojevic, 14. Tariq Sims, 15. Angus Crichton, 16. Jordan McLean, 17. Tyrone Peachey, 18. Cameron Murray