It would not surprise me if Mitchell Moses absolutely kills it in State of Origin next Wednesday night – he could well be the man of the match.
It’s a game that’s essentially made for him, surrounded by superstars with whom he can play all the trick shots he wants, with a virtual guarantee that Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic will ensure they come off.
But more importantly, it’s a zero-pressure atmosphere.
With Queensland dead and buried, Moses knows that there is no chance that he’ll be thrown the tee with 20 seconds left on the clock, the scores locked and the series there to be taken.
That’s a scenario that would have him waking in a cold sweat.
When the Eels lost to Souths in last year’s finals, perhaps the turning point of the match was Moses missing an absolute sitter of a penalty goal that would have tied scores the up at 20-all. I wrote shortly after that Moses’ “inexplicable miss from virtually right in front of the sticks has to be seen as a failing of his mental fortitude”.
“I’m hesitant to write Parramatta off entirely with Moses in their side but you have to wonder what confidence there will be in the 26-year-old – who will be 27 come finals time in 2021, so arguments about maturity and experience are fading fast – if the Eels are in a do-or-die match next year and they need someone to come up with the winning play.”
Now last Friday night’s game between Parra and the Panthers wasn’t do-or-die, but with seconds left on the clock the Eels got a penalty from about 35 metres off their opponents’ tryline and ten in from touch.
A difficult kick? Sure. But the first-choice kicker of a top-four team should be slotting those no worries.
And had it been under any other circumstances, I reckon the Parra No.7 would have managed it with his eyes closed. But the pressure was on and Mitch Moses does not do well under pressure.
His big-game experience is six finals matches for a return of one win and five losses – and that solitary victory was the 58-0 thrashing of the Broncos in 2019.
Moses shot the lights out that day, scoring 20 points – from two tries and six conversions – to go with a try assist and forcing two dropouts. And it’s why I have faith he’ll smoke the Maroons next Wednesday night, because he’s coming up against a team at their lowest ebb, which is when he shines.
Which there is really no shame in – most teams in the NRL would be more than happy to have their halfback put on clinics against the lower clubs.
But it won’t prove anything. The idea that Moses putting on a show in Origin next week will silence his doubters (ahem, ahem) is flawed because there’s nothing on the line and the knock on him is that he doesn’t step up when the stakes are high.
Which brings about the question: do you think Moses would have been picked if this series was still live?
Had Queensland somehow scraped a win against the Blues at Lang Park and Nathan Cleary went down injured in the process, do you honestly believe there would have even been a conversation about Moses being the man to lead his state to victory in the pressure-cooker environment of an Origin decider?
Look, it’s all hypothetical, but logic says no way in hell. If there was a series to be won, the Blues would have gone with Adam Reynolds.
Cooper Cronk was on the money when he pointed out earlier this year that the Brisbane-bound Bunny “got to three prelims in the last three years and failed” but that’s still three more prelims than Moses has managed – plus Reynolds is a premiership winner, kicking five goals and scoring a try in the Rabbitohs’ 2014 grand final win.
Reynolds is a strong game manager, is cool under pressure, has a number of club combinations in the NSW side, and was pretty hard done by to have been dropped from the Blues for 2017 after being injured for Game 3 of the 2016 series – a time when no one else was demanding selection.
And while Reynolds turns 31 this weekend, Moses is – as mentioned above – going on 27, so it’s not like he’s going to spend the next decade putting pressure on Nathan Cleary in rep sides.
But I’ll tell you who is going to be breathing down Cleary’s neck throughout the 2020s – the bloke who did ice the game off his boot last week.
When the game was on the line on Friday night, in the absence of Cleary and with Jarome Luai injured, Matt Burton stepped up and kicked the match-winning field goal.
It confirmed what many have known for a while now – that Burton is the NRL’s next big thing. He shapes as the circuit breaker Canterbury need to finally pull out of their five-year nosedive and, particularly if the Dogs start winning again, he will provide healthy competition in the halves department for his current Penrith teammates come rep matches.
So when you’ve got a game with zero at stake, why waste the opportunity to blood the youngster who shapes as being part of Brad Fittler’s squad long-term?
While the Blues have the makings of a dynasty, Queensland are never down for long, as we saw when they won the 2020 series with the same core of players who are suiting up in ’21.
Something has gone awry for Paul Green’s men (maybe it’s Paul Green, but that’s for another day) but the Cane Toads aren’t going continue to just roll over for the coming decade.
At some point in the next few years, there is going to be an Origin series for the taking. If Nathan Cleary is injured – and he has failed to play Game 3 twice in the last three series – then who are the NSW selectors going to look to?
If it happens in 2022, I’d suggest it’d be Reynolds, although Luke Keary is likely to be in the mix too.
If it’s any time in the years that follow, it’s probably Burton.
I’m sure we’ll all have a good time watching Mitchell Moses pull the strings as NSW complete a clean sweep of the 2021 Origin series, but the odds of seeing him feature again after next Wednesday are remote.
So why waste the opportunity to give a chance to Adam Reynolds or Matt Burton, who are far more likely to be called upon in the Blues’ hour of need?