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Opinion

Burton vs Luai vs Walker for Blues No.6 jersey should be no-brainer decision for Maguire

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Expert
21st May, 2024
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Nicho Hynes would have been the best option to partner Nathan Cleary as NSW halfback but the Sharks star is needed elsewhere, namely in the No.7 jersey.

With Mitchell Moses’ comeback from a foot injury again delayed, Hynes is now the last half standing in the race for the Blues’ chief playmaker role in Origin I on June 5.

He would have been an ideal offsider alongside Cleary to be a secondary playmaker but also a running option, which was the Cronulla Dally M Medal winner’s strong suit during his stint at the Storm.

Now the big question facing incoming coach Michael Maguire is who to pair alongside Hynes at five-eighth.

TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 09: Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai of the Blues celebrate after winning game one of the 2021 State of Origin series between the New South Wales Blues and the Queensland Maroons at Queensland Country Bank Stadium on June 09, 2021 in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)[/caption]
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Of the three five-eighth candidates, Burton has been performing better in the areas that the Blues need from their prospective five-eighth. 

He has Luai and Walker covered when it comes to scoring tries, making line breaks, busting tackles and kicking in general play. 

Walker is still the king of creating line breaks despite South Sydney’s chronic dysfunction this season while Luai’s defence is better than his rivals.

Burton vs Luai vs Walker

BurtonLuaiWalker
2024 NRL games101010
Line breaks623
Tries611
Tackle breaks252118
Line break assists9712
Avge Kick metres301196182
Kicks per game966
Tackle efficiency81%86%72%
Line break causes601

Burton has more than held his own in his two Origin appearances at centre in 2022 and could be an option in that role again with Kotoni Staggs (fractured rib) on Tuesday joining Bradman Best (hamstring) in dropping out of the selection equation. 

Stephen Crichton is a shoo-in to be one of the centres and although he plays on the right edge for Canterbury, he has plenty of experience on the left from his time at Penrith. 

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He and Burton have plenty of reps alongside each other from their time at both the Panthers and Dogs so that should be another factor weighing in the Canterbury five-eighth’s favour.

Like Luai, he has a strong connection with NSW’s likely starting lock and hooker in Isaah Yeo and Api Koroisau respectively while if Dylan Edwards gets the nod ahead of James Tedesco at fullback, it will continue the Panthers bloodlines through the key positions. 

Matt Burton

Matt Burton. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Tedesco fronted the media on Tuesday and he spoke like someone who was unsure whether the new coach would keep him in the No.1 jersey, not like an incumbent NSW skipper who was certain of his standing in the side.

“(Origin selection) is a thought of course but my main focus has been trying to play good footy for the Roosters. When Origin comes it’s up to them to make a decision,” he said.

“I’ve been happy with how I’ve been playing and how the team’s been playing and that’s all I can really do.

“Madge has reached out to a lot of the boys and made sure everyone is on the same page. That’s good for him, obviously there’s a lot going on with injuries, people in and out, it’s definitely a busy time for him.”

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It’s what Tedesco didn’t say than what he did which should give the chorus of critics calling the selection of Edwards some hope that he will finally be given a crack in the Origin arena after a belated Test call-up on the wing late last year.

Tedesco has been a constant presence at fullback over the past six years when Fittler was at the NSW helm.

Queensland shuffled through Kevin Walters, Paul Green, Wayne Bennett and Billy Slater as coaches, but their halves were settled with Cameron Munster and Daly Cherry-Evans playing alongside each other in 14 of those 18 matches after Ben Hunt was given first crack to be the long-term half in 2018 following Johnathan Thurston’s Origin career coming to an end. 

The Blues have frequently chopped and changed their halves due to injuries and form, using Cleary together with Luai six times and James Maloney on four occasions while also cycling through Walker, Mitchell Pearce, Jack Wighton, Luke Keary and Mitchell Moses in the key playmaking roles.

Queensland’s DCE-Munster union will be absent all series with the Storm needing groin surgery, opening the door for Tom Dearden or perhaps Ezra Mam to link with the skipper in the halves.

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With so many injuries to his key candidates, Maguire cannot avoid fielding a new-look side across the park. 

And with Cleary ruled out until the third match at the earliest, he has to pick and stick with the right halves combination and while Luai and Walker have the edge in experience, Burton is the best option for the Blues in their bid to avoid a third straight series defeat.

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