The first tranche of five players from the bottom eight teams have been selected for the New South Wales State of Origin training squad.
Selected were Manly’s Trbojevic brothers, Jake and Tom; Tyson Frizell and Cameron McInnes from St George; and Payne Haas from the Broncos.
Players will be added to and presumably removed from the squad as the finals progress, with a total squad of 27 to eventually be selected.
Interestingly, only five players came from the bottom eight teams, with the balance of 22 players to come from the top eight.
There are some surprises.
1. Tom Trbojevic makes the cut
The selection of Tom Trbojevic, who has missed almost a whole season, firstly with a hamstring injury and now with problems with his shoulder, was a surprise. Turbo last took the field in Round 19 and looked very rusty, to say the least, before leaving the field with his latest injury.
By the time Origin 1 comes around he’ll have played just half a game in five months, and while Brad Fittler’s loyalty to one of last year’s Origin stars is admirable, State of Origin football is not the place for either unfit or out-of-form players, particularly in a position like centre, where the expectation is that that you’ll be there for the whole 80 minutes.
An unfit or unprepared player would make an ideal target for the Queenslanders.
2. But Zac Lomax doesn’t
Perhaps a bigger shock was the non-selection of Zac Lomax, who has been one of the best-performing backs in the 2020 competition, scoring 13 tries and kicking 63 goals at a success rate just under 80 per cent. And this is despite playing outside the ineffective Corey Norman for much of the year.
Very few opponents have got the better of Lomax, and he has the passing game, defence and aerial skills to be a real threat in Origin. If Tom Trbojevic doesn’t play, and I doubt he will, NSW has no other right-side centre specialist, as his replacement would most likely be left-side centre specialists Campbell Graham and Stephen Crichton.
Origin isn’t the place to risk inexperienced players in unfamiliar territory. The selection of Lomax is also a must from a goal-kicking perspective, as outside of Nathan Cleary the New South Wales goal-kicking stocks look to be bare.
3. The selection Tyson Frizell
Frizell has played well below his usual standard this year. While on the surface his stats read well, his actual impact for the Dragons has been below par. His selection probably owes more to Fittler’s loyalty and lack of selection competition than undeniable form.
4. The selection of Cameron McInnes
McInnes had an outstanding season despite the Dragons playing poorly, so why is this a surprise selection? The fact that he’s been selected indicates to me that McInnes will be playing off the bench throughout the series. I would expect Damien Cook to be the first-choice hooker and, in his absence, Apisai Koroisau the run-on dummy half. McInnes will provide cover at hooker but also be brought on as a running forward if required. His time at lock this year has improved both his running and passing game, and there have never been any doubts about the quality of his defence.
5. The non-selection of David Nofoaluma
Nofoaluma has had probably his best season ever for the Wests Tigers, running in 17 tries in 20 games and averaging nearly 180 running metres per game. He was up against some strong competition for a spot on the right wing from both Nick Cotric and Blake Ferguson, and maybe it was his lack of big-match experience that cost him in the end.
Stay tuned for further Origin selection surprises in the weeks ahead. As I have said before, expect further injuries and other availability to play a part in the final squad make u-. It may be a case of last man standing.