Brad Fittler has to take the blame for NSW's shock State of Origin series loss. When somebody takes responsibility for wins, they have to…
Late last year I debuted the proportion of positive engagement (POPE) player rating system on The Roar and applied it to select a 2021 NRL team of the season.
With an Origin decider at Lang Park coming up, POPE has kindly lent a hand to Brad Fittler by appointing itself chair of the New South Wales selection committee for game three.
POPE has already selected a Queensland team, with most of the players soundly beaten in game two retained for the decider.
There’s no such continuity for NSW with POPE recommending 11 changes. Hey, seven changes worked for the Blues in game two. Maybe Fittler’s on to something with his rotation policy. Use the greater depth at the Blues disposal and keep Queensland guessing.
I don’t personally agree with many of the 11 changes recommended by POPE and I’m beginning to suspect that POPE’s a Queenslander. That said, I designed the system, so it’s incumbent on me to at least attempt to explain them. There are also some changes I would make if I were Fittler.
The eligibility criteria for the NSW team are the same as those for Queensland, with players known or strongly suspected to be unavailable for game three excluded and backup options nominated in every starting position.
1. James Tedesco
Even if Tom Trbojevic, Latrell Mitchell and Ryan Papenhuyzen had been fit, there’s no way Tedesco wouldn’t be playing fullback for the Blues.
Papenhuyzen should have a couple of games under his belt before game three and has been chosen as backup. The next best candidate is the indefatigable Dylan Edwards of Penrith.
Backup: Ryan Papenhuyzen
2. Alex Johnston
Brian To’o has missed a few games this season and isn’t eligible for the starting team. Even so, he wouldn’t have been picked on his recent club form.
Johnston finished ahead of every other contender for a blue jersey due to his ability to beat defenders and defensive lines. Daniel Tupou and To’o were likely selected by Fittler because of their higher work rate from the backfield.
Backup: Nick Meaney
3. Siosifa Talakai
I like having Talakai in the squad but not ahead of Matt Burton on the left edge. Talakai’s here because of his extraordinarily destructive performances in the first half of the NRL season. It’s unlikely he’ll be able to maintain that level.
I’d like to see Fittler give Talakai some time against Dane Gagai in game three. Maybe shift Burton to lock for a while and let ‘Sifa’ rip.
Backup: Izack Tago
4. Moses Suli
Oh, boy. Not even this Dragons supporter thinks Suli belongs anywhere near Origin. But credit where it’s due, he has been one of the most destructive ball-running centres this season, alongside Talakai and Joseph Manu.
If NSW consider replacing Stephen Crichton – and I think they should – Zac Lomax, Jesse Ramien and Campbell Graham are the players who should be in contention.
Backup: Zac Lomax
5. Nick Cotric
Hang on, is this the same guy who played Origin and Test footy in 2019. Why yes, it is. While Cotric is playing better than I expected, he doesn’t belong back in Origin. That doesn’t mean he should be discounted in the future. He’s playing well this year.
While Daniel Tupou doesn’t produce as much pure impact, he’s a better player overall and deserves to retain his spot.
Backup: Taylan May
6. Jarome Luai
Cody Walker’s looked lost since Adam Reynolds left Souths, isn’t getting any younger and never looked comfortable in Origin anyway. Jack Wighton’s not an elite five eighth and Matt Burton’s not a five eighth, period.
Talatau Amone’s the only guy who might threaten Luai’s spot in the next few years.
Backup: Jack Wighton
7. Nicho Hynes
Queensland will never see this one coming. Hynes runs the ball more than any other halfback, tackles better than most and is very good at creating space for his teammates.
He and Jahrome Hughes might be a new breed of half, converted fullbacks who create opportunities through their physicality and relentless vertical running games.
Seriously though, Nathan Cleary’s no chance of being dropped. He’s the opposite of Hynes, a half from the Cooper Cronck school of less is more.
He’s refined his game down to a series of short, angled runs and body positioning (deception), tactical kicking and selective running.
Backup: Nathan Cleary
8. Payne Haas
By all accounts, Haas has bits falling off him and has certainly looked down on his best lately. I’d be happy for Regan Campbell-Gillard or David Klemmer to come in for game three. What has Klemmer done to offend Brad Fittler?
Backup: Reagan Campbell-Gillard
9. Damien Cook
There’s a reason why Api Koroisau is joining Wests next season – he’s not very good anymore.
Cook is still very good. Even so, taking some pressure of him, much like Queensland have done with Harry Grant, is a good idea. Starting Reece Robson or even Nicho Hynes at hooker would make a lot of sense.
Backup: Reece Robson
10. David Klemmer
Whatever he said or did to Fittler must have been heinous, because Klemmer remains one of the best props in the NRL. Seriously, he’s right up there with Haas, Junior Paulo, Josh Papalii, Joseph Tapine and Addin Fonua-Blake.
Backup: Junior Paulo
11. Luciano Leilua
There’s a rather depressing sentiment I’ve heard a few times in recent years. It goes a little something like this, ‘he’s improved significantly since he left St George Illawarra’.
While this is undoubtedly true of Leilua, I’m not convinced he’s Origin material. However, with Tyson Frizell in decline, Tariq Sims a shell of his former self and Angus Crichton vastly overrated, edge back row is shaping as a problem area for the Blues.
Leilua and Manly’s Haumole Olakau’atu might be battling each other for a blue shirt in coming years.
Backup: Tyson Frizell
12. Luke Garner
You might have noticed I’ve dared to disagree with most of POPE’s selections so far. Not here, though. I rate Garner. Highly. So do Penrith.
Garner’s been better than Crichton, Felise Kaufusi and Liam Martin so far this season while playing in an awful Wests team. I reckon he has what it takes at the next level.
Backup: Angus Crichton
13. Isaah Yeo
I’m not sure if there’s a stat for this, but Yeo might be the busiest player in rugby league who doesn’t play dummy half. He’s everywhere and is the main reason why Penrith doesn’t need an elite dummy half.
I’d say there isn’t another player quite like him, except there is and his name’s Cameron Murray.
Backup: Cameron Murray
Bench: Junior Paulo, Jordan McLean, Ryan Matterson and Reece Robson.
McLean doesn’t make mistakes, Paulo can ball play at the line and break it, Matterson’s the best running back rower in the game and Robson’s better than Koroisau. So is Hynes – just saying.
In the next instalment, POPE will pick a Kangaroos team based on performances in the Origin series.