I’ve waited a week to write down my thoughts on what the New South Wales Blues should do in response to their loss in the opening game of the State of Origin series.
Making decisions while emotional is never a good idea. Emotions can cloud your judgement and prevent you from thinking in a logical manner.
It’s best to wait until the emotion dies down, and with a clear mind, then make level-headed, calm, rational decisions.
As such, five minutes after losing a heart-breaking game probably isn’t the optimal time to start thinking about team selections.
I may or may not have fired off a few emotional tweets, suggesting NSW needed to make a number of changes to their squad for the second Origin encounter.
The tweets haven’t been deleted; they’re still on public record. As such, I’m happy to discuss them, and while I’m slightly paraphrasing here, the general gist was:
• Drop Nick Cotric for Blake Ferguson
• Drop Nathan Cleary for Adam Reynolds
• Move Cody Walker to the bench and bring in Luke Keary
• Make changes to the bench, as Cameron Murray, Angus Crichton and Jack Wighton didn’t provide much.
Like I said, I was a tad emotional…
After calming down, watching the game again, and also listening to the opinions of some astute minds, I don’t quite feel the same as I did while I was throwing things at the TV screen.
First of all, Cotric wasn’t that bad. He did some good things, and contributed to a try-saving effort on Michael Morgan. I never got the sense that he was completely comfortable at Origin level, but few debutants are.
My primary motivation for Cotric to be dropped was simply to recall Ferguson, but in hindsight, that’s pretty irrational itself.
Fergo comes with his own issues and concerns, particularly handling errors and bad defensive reads – not exactly two things you want in Origin. That’s without even discussing any ‘cultural concerns’ he brings to camp.
NSW could have badly done with Ferguson’s early-tackle runs out of his own half. He often makes good meters with these bursts, and would provide the forwards with a bit of a break. In the second half of Game 1, the Blues definitely looked like they needed that.
Though overall, when you weigh up the pros and cons of both players, it would be hard to drop the incumbent.
Yet it’s probably all a moot point if Tom Trbojevic shows more improvement next week. He was a bit of a mixed bag on Saturday night versus North Queensland, but should be better for the run, after missing time with an injured hamstring.
In all likelihood, Trbojevic will come back on to right wing for NSW, but if not, Cotric should retain his jersey.
The halfback debate is a more interesting one.
Nathan Cleary is hardly the sole reason that NSW lost the game, and many of his supporters have made similar comments. Conversely, he’s undoubtedly a large reason why NSW didn’t win.
Depending on your level of sensationalistic language, he either ‘disappeared’ in the second half, or was ‘ineffective’. Either way, the halfback didn’t stamp his authority on the game in the second 40 minutes, which stood out more because his team desperately needed it.
Yes, it’s hard for a number 7 to perform behind a beaten pack, and Queensland monstered the Blues in the middle of the park during the second half. That’s a totally acceptable excuse, and other players should face some heat for that predicament.
Though that doesn’t allow for the fact Cleary has been in poor NRL form all season, and was a passenger for Penrith on Sunday in their impressive win over the Roosters. He looked like an assistant coach at training, innocuously passing the ball to start some drills. He simply doesn’t threaten the defense enough, or put them on their heels.
Cleary receives a lot of leeway because the Blues won last year’s Origin series, but the elephant in the room is that he actually didn’t play all that well. The bar has been set so low for NSW number 7s, that even a mildly competent performance is erroneously lauded.
Bottom line, Cleary isn’t quite up to Origin standard yet, and I’d be looking at alternatives.
Problem is, who?
Calling for Adam Reynolds was the height of irrationality, considering he has a fracture in his back. Slight understatement, but he’ll be hard-pressed to make a case for selection if he’s sitting on the sidelines.
There was plenty of talk that perhaps Luke Keary could just slot in at 7 instead, but given the medical advice that he should have six weeks on the sidelines due to his spate of concussions, he’s no longer an option either.
Mitch Pearce is in good form, but recalling him would be brave, considering his Origin record.
James Maloney provides the leadership and direction required, and was excellent on Saturday night, but bad defense and conceding penalties – both Origin suicide – remain a concern.
So there is no perfect solution here, but given he has won a series, Maloney gets my nod.
The bench situation was another in which I was a little harsh, particularly on Murray. He actually played pretty well and deserves to retain his spot.
Meanwhile, Wighton was given a difficult assignment, and will remembered – fairly or not – for throwing an intercept pass to Dane Gagai. If the Blues decide they need a utility again, he’ll probably get another shot, depending on what happens with Cody Walker.
I am, however, going to stick with my original thought that Angus Crichton should be dropped.
Nothing against the Roosters backrower, but I just struggle to see what all the hype is about. He’s an honest first-grader, not a representative player, and NSW should be looking to have more impact from that bench spot.
Given their lack of grunt in the second half, I’d be selecting Dale Finucane. Hopefully the Storm forward can ensure there is little let-up in the physicality, which should also see the addition of Jordan McLean to replace the injured David Klemmer.
So, after a few days, my clear-headed and rational changes would be: James Maloney for Nathan Cleary, and Dale Finucane for Angus Crichton, with Jordan McLean a forced change for Dave Klemmer. Tom Trbojevic possibly takes Nick Cotric’s spot, if he shines in next round.
NSW weren’t far off, so they don’t need wholesale changes. Coach Brad Fittler does need to use his bench a little better – which would help tremendously – but from a selection perspective, a couple of necessary swap-outs would not be ‘panic stations’.
Rather, they would be astute, level-headed decisions.