Eight months ago it was the same old, same old for New South Wales. Stacked with talent, coached by a genius in Brad Fittler and unbackable favourites against the hapless Maroons – before losing another ‘unlosable series.
In 2021 the story repeats. New South Wales’s Origin 1 team is brimming with talent from teams in sensational form, no real injuries to complain of and a coach saying he understands what he did wrong in 2020 and who is out to atone.
Missing are the suspended Angus Crichton and Victor Radley, Ryan Papenhuyzen is no good as he battles concussion symptoms weeks after getting knocked out at Magic Round and Newcastle’s Tyson Frizell was a late Sunday injury out with an ankle issue.
It’s a great team line-up on paper. But funny things happen in Origin.
Here’s the Blues as released for game one in Townsville, Canberra, Parramatta or elsewhere.
The captain, the fullback, and he’ll love roaming around in such a dangerous backline. With defenders eyes on the likes of Jerome Luai, Nathan Cleary and the returning Latrell Mitchell, he might even have more time and space to have some fun.
Tedesco’s output has been solid without being spectacular so far in season 2021, with seven tries and eight assists, but Tedesco will still finds ways to make an impact without being the be-all and end-all of the attack.
I was a booster for the Rooster Daniel Tupou in the No. 2, but To’o cannot be denied his Origin debut. A tackle -busting, metre-eating power runner.
He’s top of the NRL for post-contact metres, with 1175, and that’s 370 ahead of the next best (which is Tupou). Origin is all about gaining territory under extreme duress, and To’o is well suited to the job. There’s no doubt he’ll be targeted, and he does have an error in him, but don’t we all?
Selected back in his premiership-winning spot at centre rather than fullback, Mitchell’s apparent shortcomings on the Origin stage have been forgiven.
Mitchell will be dangerous in the centres with his ability to put teammates into space. Tries are hard to usually tough to come by in Origin, and a player who can facilitate a score or some meterage is worth their weight in gold.
Tommy Turbo has shown once again how influential a player he is with his barnstorming return to the Sea Eagles after hamstring trouble. He’s truly blasted back onto the scene, and after spotting the rest of the competition a five-game head start, he’s already top five in the league for line breaks and try assists, and he’s scored eight times.
Any doubts there were over Trbojevic playing Origin, and especially at centre, are long gone.
He’s leading the NRL after Round 12 with 15 tries, which might surprise some as Addo-Carr hasn’t truly been at his field-burning, game-breaking, electrifying best – yet. But the Bulldogs-bound winger has flourished in Origin, with tries, line breaks and sensational plays all part of what he offers. Addo-Carr is a wonderful talent, and having the big stage brings out the superstar.
A lot of the commentary about the five-eighth spot was around the ‘competition’ between Luai and Canberra’s Jack Wighton. The facts are there was no competition. Luai has been a phenom so far in season 2021 with 14 try assists (No. 1 in the NRL), 15 line break assists, good for No. 2 in the game.
That’s all fine and good, but as we all know, the big question is how his game will suit Origin. Luai is about to experience a different style of game, different refereeing, different defensive attitudes. Will he keep up the strut he’s been showing all season, or will he go into his shell?
In club football Nathan Cleary is almost peerless at halfback. Controlling games by hand or foot, laying on tries or forcing dropouts, pulling the ball in and taking off himself, he does it all in a Panthers jersey.
But the best you can say about his body of work in State of Origin is that he defends well. Cleary has no tries and just one try assist in eight Origin games at halfback, and his kicking game has been meh. This is Cleary’s fourth Origin campaign, and many eyes will look again to see whether he can bring his natural game to the toughest arena. If he can, New South Wales win.
With Newcastle’s form being rubbish there may have been some doubt about whether Saifiti had done enough to keep his place, but he’s played consistently well, and that’s enough for Fittler.
Mind you, it helps that Saifiti was one of the Blues’ best last year, averaging 141 running metres. He’ll need to keep that rolling to give Cleary and Luai a decent platform to work from.
Origin series 2021 will be quite simple for Damien Cook. Get the ball to the halves quickly and stick your tackles. Oh, and if a marker is slightly off their line, get up the field fast as you can.
Fortunately Cook is a reliable option for the Blues at No. 9, and while his 2020 series wasn’t his best, he provides an attacking threat that can keep Queensland off balance when they’re throwing themselves at Cleary and Luai.
Some eyebrows were raised when Jake T was named in the squad (and especially at prop), but Trbojevic the elder has repeatedly shown he’s up to the event.
Fittler sees Trbojevic’s defensive nous as absolutely critical for the Blues to keep Queensland in check. Commentary around his form and ability to adapt his game for the new rules seems to have gone away with Manly winning a few games – funny that.
The Souths backrower is very, very lucky to be here after getting an Origin discount at the judiciary for a crusher tackle on Parramatta’s Blake Ferguson at the weekend.
It was Murray first game back after an ankle injury. He’s fit, he’s in the clear, he’ll be relied on to support the halves in defence and, after playing only four minutes of the 2020 series before getting injured, he’ll be raring to go.
The Fijian international returns to the Origin arena for the first time since 2019 after a strong first half of 2021 with the Dragons.
You’re not allowed to write about Tariq Sims without referring to him as the ‘Dragons enforcer’, which gives you a fair indication of what Fittler wants from him. He’s there to mash. It doesn’t matter he’s missed the most tackles of any Origin selected player in 2021.
Yeo busts opposition tackles, sticks his own tackles, gains metres and is the captain and a key member of the team that’s 12-0 and top of the ladder. He’s missed seven tackles in total all season. What more do you want?
As a utility for Fittler there’s scope for Wighton to inject himself. He can cover Tedesco at fullback, move into the centres or help in the halves and is able to break open a defence or put a huge shot on a ball carrier.
But let’s be honest. The reigning Dally M medallist’s form is less than suboptimal right now. His 2020 Origin series wasn’t that great either. He’ll have to do something good to still be here for Game 2.
Off the bench into a tired opponent with a faster game and speed all around him? The stage is set for Paulo to impose himself on the game. Junior will be a vending machine for Luai, Tedesco, Mitchell and anyone else who is nearby. His power running matched with an eye for the offload makes him valuable in Origin, where you’re fighting for every step.
There’s an injury cloud over Haas with bone bruising on his knee, initially feared to be a three or four-week out, but after scans apparently it can be overcome in ten days. He didn’t look good, so hopefully he’ll get right.
In the 2020 series Haas was incredible in the game two win but mediocre in the two losses. You can guess from that where he needs to lift to help the Blues.
Martin was brought into the squad late on Sunday after Tyson Frizell’s ankle injury opened a spot on the list. He puts in pretty decent minutes for Penrith as a bench starter, and when he goes on to replace Yeo, Sims or Murray the Blues won’t lose anything in attack or defence.
With Damien Cook selected at hooker, this is basically a week’s holiday for Koroisau as he attends the meetings and does the training to be ready in the unlikely chance the incumbent hurts himself. If he does find himself on the field, his combination with Cleary and Luai will be important.
A spare back who could cover Mitchell, Trbojevic or maybe a winger if they were to go down before the game, Graham is a reliable operator, and that’s what Fittler likes for Origin. Like Koroisau, it’s highly unlikely Graham will get on the field, but there may need to be some shuffling if Payne Haas’s knee can’t get right.