With the departure over the weekend of both Newcastle and Cronulla from the NRL competition for 2020, two more players have now been added to the NSW squad.
This brings it now to a total of six, following the recent withdrawal through injury of Tom Trbojevic.
Zac Lomax and Daniel Saifiti now join Payne Haas, Tyson Frizell, Jake Trbojevic and Cameron McInnes in the squad of six. The remaining 21 players will be selected from the six teams still contesting the finals.
The selection of Lomax for the injured Trbojevic was no surprise and many people, myself included, believe he should have been included in the first tranche of players selected last week.
Lomax, a specialist right centre good in both attack and defence, with excellent aerial skills and one of the league’s leading goal kickers, is now favourite to join Jack Wighton in the centres, but anything can happen over the next few weeks.
Saifiti is a man mountain, and with Payne Haas, would give NSW a very imposing front row. He has a good running game, is effective in defence, and has just about the right level of aggression in his game to keep the opposition forwards on the back foot. His inclusion in the squad was hardly surprising.
While we probably all expected to see both Lomax and Saifiti in the squad, we weren’t necessarily prepared for the following high profile omissions.
Klemmer has played in nearly every Origin game during the past five years and has been one of the first forwards picked for NSW during this time, as well as running out for 19 appearances for Australia since 2014. Klemmer began life as a tearaway with a high, suspect running action and brutal defence, and wasn’t afraid to mix it with the opposition when the opportunity arose.
In recent years his game has toned down somewhat and he has now developed a very useful offload.
When you consider that his game stats are better than selected teammate Saifiti’s in virtually every category, it’s hard to reconcile his omission, particularly since this is selection for a 27-man squad and not the final 17.
The main criticism of Klemmer that I have is that he appears to have lost his aggression, and like fellow NSW forwards Paul Vaughan and Aaron Woods, appears to be happy enough to rack up some good stats without ever upsetting the opposition.
Brad Fittler likes to keep everybody guessing with his selections, but in omitting both Klemmer and Vaughan from his middle forward roster, he looks to be looking for a bit more aggression and dominance in the engine room.
In many ways Wade Graham is made for Origin. He’s a tough, no holds barred type of player who epitomises the intensity required to succeed in the depths of the origin battle.
His utility value, leadership and good kicking game is a point of difference that few other edge forwards can offer to the team, and his omission is hard to justify. No opposition forwards want to play against Wade.
While his form this year may not have been as strong as prior years, and this has been affected somewhat by injuries, he appears to be unlucky to be left out of the squad at the expense of say Tyson Frizell, who’s game has become very predictable and one dimensional this season.
Graham’s omission may come back to bite NSW.
Has there ever been a player as maligned as Mitchell Pearce for his Origin performances? Thrown into the Origin playmaker deep end in 2008 as a 19-year-old, Pearce has been the scapegoat for multiple series losses to QLD, most time unfairly. To be honest, he never really recovered from this early baptism of fire against the origin masters in Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk.
Injuries prior to Game 3 in the 2019 series gave him one more chance at Origin success and he grabbed it with both hands playing a large part in the series-clinching victory by NSW. His omission from the squad this year signals that time is now up on his Origin career.
Stay tuned for further selection surprises next week after two more teams are eliminated from the premiership race. The ever-mounting injury toll may have a further part to play on who eventually runs out for NSW this year. It may well be a case of last man standing.