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The representative fullback battle between Tedesco and Edwards: Now isn't the time to panic with knee-jerk actions

Roar Rookie
13th February, 2024
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13th February, 2024
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Much of the discussion surrounding either of the fullback positions in State of Origin has centred on Queensland’s decision between Reece Walsh and Kalyn Ponga.

Both entertainers and the form players of the competition last year, it is understandable that the media would focus on the impending showdown for the jersey.

But across the border, another selection battle has been brewing in New South Wales for the fullback position between Dylan Edwards and James Tedesco.

There have been calls for Tedesco to be dropped, and they grew louder following the Blues losing the series in the first two games last year, with Tedesco having a particularly bad performance in the opener.

NSW has lost three out of the past five series. This is despite boasting the superior talent pool in what was supposed to be our generation of revenge after the massacre that was the Queensland dynasty.

Change is necessary when results don’t fall your way. Looking at the success of Edwards over the past three seasons, he may seem like the logical successor.

One poor season from the Roosters’ number one is not reflective of a trend, but an anomaly, and Tedesco should not have his position questioned.

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Now I can’t pretend that Tedesco had his greatest year last year. He was slow to start the season and his form was a microcosm of the Roosters struggles in general.

James Tedesco of the Blues is tackled during game one of the 2023 State of Origin series between the Queensland Maroons and New South Wales Blues at Adelaide Oval on May 31, 2023 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

James Tedesco being tackled during game one of the 2023 State of Origin series. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Edwards on the other hand won his third premiership on the trot, going from strength to strength and playing a bigger role in the Penrith attack while ensuring they remained the best defensive team in the NRL.

This form resulted in him making his representative debut for the Kangaroos. The trajectories of their careers seem to be heading in the opposite directions.

The issues with Edwards have nothing to do with form but everything to do with style of play and fit. Let’s look at the statistics for both last seasons:

Dylan Edwards James Tedesco
Games Played 26 22
Tries 12 11
Try Assists 6 12
Line Breaks 12 15
Line Break Assists 13 12
Metres Per Game 207.3 186
Tackle Breaks Per game 6 5.7

Dylan Edward’s strength is evident. Out of his own end, he is the best in the competition.

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Penrith also had the best defence in the competition, and Edward’s communication and positioning at the back are huge reasons for that.

What Edwards lacks is the ability to set up those around him. Not used as a sweeper or primary receiver, Edwards is an old-style fullback more resemblant of the 80s as opposed to now where they double up as a kind of ‘third half’.

The primary criticism of Tedesco is that he doesn’t pass the ball, a criticism that I believe was overblown and reactionary to a few poor decisions last year.

Even conceding that, it defies logic to replace a player for one defunct attribute with someone worse at that very said attribute.

At least alternatives like Scott Drinkwater, Tom Trbojevic or Latrell Mitchell offer quality with their final pass, although they all also have questions surrounding their selections at the position at this level.

Another argument has been combinations. Penrith have dominated the NRL which has in turn led to a number of their players being selected in the Origin team.

Dylan Edwards. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

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Adding Edwards to that mix would lead to a more seamless integration of Penrith’s structure and success. But Origin is not club football, and the Blues’ blind adoption of the Penrith structure has been our downfall.

Nathan Cleary, for all his success in club football, hasn’t been as consistent in the Origin arena due to form and unavailability. Part of his troubles has been his reluctance to jump into the first receiver position, playing off the back of Isaah Yeo.

Yeo has been the form lock of the NRL, but his slow service often leads to Cleary getting rushed by more attuned defensive players, diminishing his decision time.

We all saw what he could do when forced to take on the game in the grand final last year with Yeo and Jarome Luai off the field.

Speaking of Luai, his lack of involvement and unwillingness to contribute on the fifth tackle has been part of NSW’s undoing.

Again, I keep saying it; Origin is not the NRL, and picking a club side, no matter how successful without any variety in play will only lead to the continued disappointment of NSW fans.

Look at what happened in the final game of the series last year. Now it was a dead rubber, but Cam Murray is far more suited to the Origin game than Yeo, with his quick play the balls allowing the halves to play off the front foot.

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Cody Walker’s involvement opened up the attack, leading to a more expansive style of football, resulting in him receiving man of the match.

Do you know who has received the most Man of the Match awards since 2018? That’s right, James Tedesco.

Tedesco has more Man of the Match awards than greats such as Greg Inglis, Billy Slater, Laurie Daley and Brad Fitter.

He did not have the best series last year, but alongside Cameron Munster, he has undisputedly been one of Origin’s best over the years.

He is just one year removed from finishing second in the Dally M voting and is still only 31 years old. The difference between Tedesco and Edwards has less to do with performance and more to do with expectations.

The Rooster is one of the all-time premier players in that position, whose resume is only surpassed by Billy Slater in the position. Edwards on the other hand rose from little fanfare to be a meaningful contributor to the greatest side of the modern era.

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But the grass isn’t always greener, and class is permanent.

Knee-jerk reactions to a couple of underwhelming performances despite a history of proven excellence will not help end Queensland’s joy but prolong it.

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