Here is my NSW Origin team for Game 1.
With the series kicking off in neutral Adelaide before moving to not-so-neutral Brisbane, make no mistake – this is an absolute must-win game for the Blues.
Game 1 in the 2020 series was in Adelaide. NSW got rolled in a game they were heavily favoured to win before losing Game 3 at Suncorp and losing the ‘unloseable’ series. Blues hubris at its finest.
Keep in mind the team below is presented with the caveat that it’s selected prior to Round 12, so any injuries or suspensions (hope not) and miraculous recoveries of form (please, please, please, please, please) have not been accounted for.
Unthinkable two months ago and certifiable a year ago, a very convincing case could be made to not select Teddy for Origin this year. He’s not close to the form fullback of the competition or for NSW. But this is Origin. Teddy has earned the chance to shake off some rusty Rooster form on league’s biggest stage.
To’o has been a mainstay of the NSW backline in recent years. He’s in solid – not spectacular – form for the Panthers but will deservedly be one of the first three quarters picked.
There’s a strong argument that Latrell should be the fullback based on NRL form. He’s better at this level as a centre and should be the Blues’ main strike weapon.
Graham has been very good for a while now, but since his selection in the World Cup squad he’s gone to elite level. Arguably the in-form centre in rugby league.
It was a massive blunder not picking Fox last season. NSW get hung up on the idea that wingers must be 6’5″ and 110 kilograms. It didn’t help us last year.
If Turbo somehow sheds his injury concerns and shows any semblance of form and fitness in Canberra on the weekend, I’d put him on this wing. But I just can’t pick him as is. It’s not fair to tarnish his name at this level by playing him 50 per cent fit.
JAC will not be selected. Brad Fittler will most likely go for a big body like Joseph Suaalii.
This position is a huge gamble. It’s a must-win game for NSW, so the ‘safe’ temptation of sticking with a player who’s been there, done that successfully, has combinations and is in a familiar role is a tempting one.
Nicho Hynes has been the form player of the competition over the past season and a bit, but would be playing slightly out of position and have to play second banana to Nathan Cleary – which is also unfamiliar. I’ve chopped and changed half a dozen times writing this article, but overall it’s too risky to pick Hynes here for his debut. Either that or it’s the risk NSW must take. Who knows?
Fittler will go for Luai. It could, however, still come down to a Round 12 shootout.
Cody Walker is in arguably career-best form but it’s tough to find a way he gets a run.
Always a lot of chat that Cleary hasn’t dominated at this level. I don’t fully agree. He’s had some big games for the Blues, but he’s yet to make a series his own, like the great ones do. Regardless, if ever there was a game that NSW needed Cleary to own it’s this one.
Undeniable. Another player who it could be said hasn’t played to his full potential in Origin. Again, NSW need him to step up and you can bet the Queensland forwards will be gunning for him.
Plenty of experience, and still the form NSW hooker.
Sometimes you don’t notice how good a player is until he isn’t there and that’s certainly the case with Jurbo. Both Manly and NSW have been worse for his absence in recent times. Needs to successfully come back from a calf injury against the Raiders. Not a lay down misere that Fittler will select him.
Jeez – another Blue who will only be a game or two into a come back from a long injury lay off. The ‘made for Origin’ tag is oft overused, but it fits this bloke to a tee.
Another auto selection, although whether Murray is as effective on the edge as he is in the middle is a fair question. His Game 3, first-minute concussion last year was costly for the Blues.
Insta pick. Yeo has been the form 13 of the competition for a couple of seasons. His ball-playing adds another dimension to the Blues’ attack but they need to be careful not to go there too soon. Gotta go forward early.
Two hookers at this level is almost mandatory. If Hynes doesn’t get the 6, he shouldn’t get the 14. If five-eighth is mildly unfamiliar, playing dummy half or as an extra middle player on debut is another planet.
Two months back I’d have picked Keaon Koloamatangi. A month ago Haumole Olakau’atu, but injury and a form drop have me leaning towards Young. I could still go with Olakau’atu with a big performance against Young’s Raiders. Either would be good picks to add aggression off the bench.
Paulo has looked overworked at the Eels lately so a smaller minute, bigger impact in Origin could be just what the big fella needs.
This is a sticky one for NSW. Angus Crichton? Daniel Saifiti? Olakau’atu? Tyson Frizell? Dale Finucane?
Not sure any of them are kicking the door down. If they go an edge forward, they need one that can play middle minutes. If they go a middle, he needs to be agile to combat Queensland’s mobile middle of Patrick Carrigan, Christian Welch, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Jai Arrow.
I’d like to pick Crichton based on what he’s done before, but he looks rusty. Game 1s tend to be played through the middle so I lean towards Saifiti. Or do I?