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Wild idea but Blues should actually pick Origin team on form this time around - and that means Tedesco’s time is up

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Expert
15th April, 2024
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Michael Maguire is saying all the right things about how he wants to guide NSW back to State of Origin supremacy but the inescapable fact is he can’t do much of anything right now except hope fortune is on his side. 

With six rounds of the premiership done and dusted and another six to be played before Maguire names his first Blues line-up, the annual obsession over Origin selection is about to swamp the NRL. 

Maguire has been measured in his public statements about Origin selection for his first campaign since landing the gig following Brad Fittler’s abrupt departure last year following a 3-3 series record during his time on the hot seat. 

The Blues were in disarray last year after losing the opening two matches under a revolving door section policy before more changes led to a consolation game three win to avoid a series clean sweep. 

History suggests the best time to make widespread changes in Origin is at the start of a new year not mid-series although Fittler had a couple of examples where he overhauled the squad on the run to dramatically turn his team’s fortunes around. 

Maguire hasn’t lost any likely selection candidates to long-term injuries apart from secondary halfback option Mitchell Moses so at this stage he has a wide variety of names on his not so shortlist. 

But his red texta should have already crossed out names like Damien Cook, Cody Walker and Tyson Frizell from last year’s series as well as Latrell Mitchell at least for the first game until he can return to something resembling his peak form. 

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As is the case every year but more so when they’re coming off a series loss, the debate over NSW selections is endless. 

The Blues have a much larger talent pool to choose from but that has never bothered the Maroons. They have drawn strength from their lack of options, picking and sticking with players who are not superstars at NRL level but are suited to the different kind of beast that is Origin. 

All sorts of names are being tossed up as options for a Blues debut like Warriors duo Wayde Egan and Mitchell Barnett, Cronulla’s Blayke Brailey, Cameron McInnes and Teig Wilton, unhappy Dragons winger Zac Lomax and Manly forward Haumole Olakau’atu. 

(Photo by George Wood/Getty Images for RLWC)

The first decision the Blues need to make is whether James Tedesco is still the right option as fullback. And then decide whether that means he remains captain. 

No skipper in any sporting team deserves their spot, let alone the honour of leadership, if they are trading on their past reputation. 

Unfortunately for Tedesco, he is now a very good fullback but not a great one and definitely not the best option for NSW. 

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On recent form alone, Dylan Edwards should be in the No.1 jersey and if you throw big-game experience into the selection mix, Tom Trbojevic deserves a crack after 10 Origins since his 2018 debut out of position at wing or centre. 

If you listen to some of Tedesco’s fans, not the actual ones but some media members who are more supporters than reporters, they seem to think it is bordering on treason to even suggest Tedesco’s time is up at rep level. 

He wouldn’t be the first long-term representative captain to be tapped on the shoulder and he won’t be the last. 

Wally Lewis is now rightfully recognised as one of Australian rugby league’s Immortals and his game-breaking ability, particularly in the Origin cauldron that he rules as the Emperor of Lang Park, was second to none. 

But after Mal Meninga had already replaced him as captain, he was punted from the team altogether after losing the first Test of the 1991 series against New Zealand when he was no longer considered the best five-eighth in the land and Lewis never wore the green and gold again. 

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No longer captain, no longer in the side. It was massive news at the time and there were plenty of arguments for and against the controversial call but if it can happen to The King, it can happen to anyone. 

And if Tedesco is no longer leading the Blues out, the heir apparent is Nathan Cleary. 

His Panthers co-captain Isaah Yeo and Rabbitohs skipper Cameron Murray would also be solid options but only Cleary has the credentials and calmness to lead from the front on and off the field while also being the most important player on the field, much like Lewis in his prime during the early days of Origin. 

Selecting Cleary’s halves partner at Origin level has been problematic. Jarome Luai has filled the role seven times but he can go missing when it comes to the organisational duties in attack, placing too much of a burden on his Panthers teammate. 

https://youtu.be/-d1Zlehxud8

The Blues have just won three matches with Luai in the No.6 jersey and have lost the last three times he has been in the pivotal role.

Maguire needs to pick the team that the Maroons don’t want to see and they won’t be unhappy if Luai is talking the talk in Origin without necessarily walking the walk to back up his outspoken ways.

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Matt Burton or Nicho Hynes have the kicking and passing skills to complement Cleary as a secondary playmaker while also being able to make breaks with their running game. Walker at 34 is down on form and would only be a short-term solution, which is not the kind of thinking NSW should be adopting after back-to-back series losses. 

Hooker is the other spine spot up for grabs and with Cook in NSW Cup for Rabbitohs, the jersey should be going to Api Koroisau. 

Reece Robson showed last year that he is certainly up to Origin level, Brailey and Egan wouldn’t let anyone down if they were given a shot but for creativity, reliable tackling and crisp service from dummy-half, the Tigers captain cannot be matched. 

If Trbojevic is again not used at fullback, he will be a lock for one centre spot. 

One player who Maguire should not consider for a centre berth is Jack Wighton. 

The 30-year-old retired from the representative arena last year but has since made a few remarks to suggest he could reconsider. It would set a bad example if the Blues were to let a player effectively take a year off and then come back. 

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A younger option who has got a taste of Origin like Burton if he is not needed at five-eighth, Bradman Best or Stephen Crichton would be a much more prudent pick. 

The pack, particularly the middle forward rotation, poses plenty of posers for Maguire. 

Payne Haas is due back soon from his knee injury and providing he is fit, he will join Murray, Yeo and Liam Martin as automatic selections. 

That leaves four spots for a couple of props, a back-up second-rower and someone who can float between the middle and the edge. 

The Blues have cycled through veteran forwards Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Junior Paulo, Daniel and Jacob Saifiti, Frizell and Jake Trbojevic in the past couple of campaigns, as well as the one-off train wreck that was Tevita Pangai jnr’s controversial appearance in Adelaide last year. 

They also blooded Stefano Utoikamanu and Hudson Young last year who could develop into long-term Origin performers if the Blues persist with them rather than their usual “chew them up and spit them out” policy. 

The team the Blues should pick … but they won’t

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1 Dylan Edwards
2 Brian To’o
3 Tom Trbojevic
4 Stephen Crichton
5 Josh Addo-Carr
6 Matt Burton
7 Nathan Cleary 
8 Payne Haas
9 Api Koroisau
10 Stefano Utoikamanu
11 Cameron Murray
12 Liam Martin
13 Isaah Yeo
14 Nicho Hynes 
15 Hudson Young
16 Mitch Barnett
17 Junior Paulo
18 Teig Wilton

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