With State of Origin one rapidly approaching, and every man and his dog predicting the NSW line up, I’ve decided to produce the side I would choose to take on the red hot favourite home side come Origin One. As with last year, this is not the side I expect to be chosen, or the one I predict to be chosen, it’s the side I would send to war. Let us know if you agree/disagree and who you would pick to lead the charge:
Fullback: Jarryd Hayne
Arguably the competition’s form fullback, Hayne has been blistering in his performances for the Eels this season. There is a temptation to play him at centre after his awesome efforts in the World Cup, however the level of competition is not up to the Inglis/Hodges quality he can expect to face come Origin time. Hayne is great under the high ball, makes break from the back and will provide support for the halves. He can even step into the number six if things aren’t working. Must play in his favoured position
Wing: Brett Morris
Amongst the first player picked for any representative squad. The only NSW player who would play for a full strength Queensland backline in my opinion. Makes the seemingly impossible tries look easy, while providing plenty of muscle when bringing the ball out of his own end. Will be key this season as the blues look to shut down the lethal Queensland outside backs. The kicking games of Cronk and Thurston are amazing, and Morris can expect plenty of aerial traffic.
Centre: Josh Morris
Was unlucky not to play a more important role in the World Cup after a bumper 2013 in an underperforming Bulldogs side. His ability to contain Greg Inglis could mean the difference between victory and defeat in game one, and the series. Has proven himself at this level in the past. Has not had the greatest start to 2014 but his ability to score from close range may be an important weapon on the Origin armour.
Centre: Michael Jennings
Another player who has failed to hit top form thus far, however a player well and truly capable of blowing a game wide open. His performances in Origin in the past have been top quality, and if he is given the service required, could be the difference. Little doubt he is now faster than his likely opponent Justin Hodges, however will have to be right on his game to contain the wily veteran.
Wing: Jorge Taufua
Was unlucky to be overlooked last season for Origin honours, and announced his return to the game with a huge performance against the Sharks. As shown by his being run down by Sam Tagataese, he is not back at full fitness, although his power, strength and ability to find the line should led to his selection. Will face HUGE competition from Josh Mansour, and I for one support a straight shootout in city/country with the better performer grabbing the spot. His wrecking ball runs out of his own danger zone seal it for mine over Mansour .. just!
Five-Eighth: Josh Reynolds
James Maloney is way out of form and Todd Carney is nowhere near full fitness. Josh Reynolds should have played a far larger part of the blue’s Origin efforts last season after being a ridiculously small amount of time to impress. Has been the form five-eighth (NSW eligible) all season and fits the Origin mould to a tee. Big, strong, fast, and gritty, Reynolds has a well rounded kicking game and the ability to shift to lock to accommodate Hayne to five-eighth if possible. Can also slot into dummy half.
Halfback: Jarrod Mullen
Mitchell Pearce has had a very up and down start to 2013 and has failed to take hold of Origin in the past. This time last year I was sure Adam Reynolds was the answer but his inability to be a factor in the finals series worries me greatly. Mullen was the man last year for the Knights, and his amazing form helped take the Knights within a game of the decider. His kicking game, well on, is second to none (NSW eligible) and his running game is far more dangerous than that of Pearce. Can shift to five-eighth if needed to allow Gidley to play halfback.
Front Row: James Tamou
Has not been his usual battering ram self this season, but has the runs on the board, and the size, to worry the Maroon big men. At his best, there are few more fearsome sights than a fully charged Tamou. Plain and simple, NSW need to win the battle up the middle to be any chance come Origin time. The front rock stocks are good right now for the Blues and they need Tamou to be at his very best. His battle with teammate Matt Scott is mouth watering.
Hooker: Robbie Farah (Nathan Peats if unavailable)
An absolute no brainer if fully fit. A certainty if 80% fit. I’d still consider him at 70%. The way he has led his young Tigers side around has been a pleasure to watch. His performances have been top shelf and his ability to make a mountain of tackles is key. An 80 minute player who can play in the halves if needed, Farah’s injury is an absolute kick in the teeth for the Blues. If he is not able to recover, Nathan Peats gets the nod for me. Ennis is not up to standard and Gidley is not a first choice hooker.
Front Row: Aaron Woods
Has been a man mountain for the Tigers this season. The lead metre eater in a dominant forward pack, just edges out his fellow Tiger Keith Galloway for the run on spot. His defence is near impeccable as is his decision making. May not have the offload skills of other front rowers, but is less likely to pop the impossible pass. In a side boasting Bird, Cordner, Stewart, Gallen, Watmough and Fifita, needless to say there are enough ball playing forwards for Woods to just be the hard running, hard tackling forward he is when he’s at his best.
Second Row: Boyd Cordner
An absolute revolution for the blues and the Kangaroos last season. Cordner may not attract the headlines of his cross code superstar second row partner, however just as important to the Roosters. Will find it hard to live up to his amazing 2013 but a huge Origin series could take the young second rower to even greater heights career wise. I’m a huge fan of Cordner and his aggression and ball playing skills will have to be on display for NSW to dominate the ruck battle.
Second Row: Greg Bird
Once the Cronulla reserve grader more famous for kneeing Martinee in the head than for his footballing exploits, now amongst the first players picked for state and country. Bird has been a star for club, state and country for years and once again he will be amongst the go to men for the Blues. May be used as a battering ram early but will shift to lock later in the game when Gallen shifts to the front row. Can also shift into five-eighth if needed.
Lock: Paul Gallen
Still under an injury cloud, and if he hasn’t played decent minutes in the lead up, I’d overlook the influential captain, but if at full fitness, NSW needs Gallen. The games the Blues have won over the last few years have been on the back of huge efforts from their captain. Gallen has said many, MANY times he does not want to shift to the front row, and I would start him in his preferred position of lock, before moving him to the front row if the battle is not being won. Will likely play 80 minutes, however with a stacked bench, may be used in short, but impactful spells.
Interchange: Kurt Gidley
I really, really wanted to pick Albert Kelly is this role, but Gidley is capable of playing anywhere from 1-7, as well as hooker and lock. His versatility is second to none and although he may not the best at any one position, he is by far the best at playing multiple positions. I’d keep Gidley on the bench until the QLD forwards show signs of tiring, then I’d inject him wherever needed. If Reynolds isn’t firing, I’d play him at five-eighth, or even push him to fullback and push Hayne into the playmaking role. A safe pick but a smart one.
Interchange: Andrew Fifita
Has not been a huge factor for the Sharks this season, in fact his form has been poor to say the least. Obviously distracted by the entire contract saga, it would be best for everyone for Fifita to sort his future out and get back to focusing on the game he dominated in 2013. Was probably the Blue’s best forward last series, he has the size, speed and footwork to dominate any opponent. The QLD bench has long been a difference between the sides, it’s a player like Fifita who can turn the tide.
Interchange: Anthony Watmough
A near automatic selection in any Origin side. Watmough has been solid for Manly all season, but it’s the Origin arena where Watmough often produces his best. Won’t play huge minutes but his input is invaluable. Will run wide all game and should target the superstar QLD halves with every run. A near unmatched motor, Watmough will give everything he’s got for each and every second he features.
Interchange: Glen Stewart
Merrin, Lewis (if fit), and countless others will battle it out for the fourth interchange spot but Glen Stewart’s ball playing skills seal it for me. His ability to play like a second five-eighth is one advantage the Blues have over the Maroons. If Lyon was available for Origin, he and Stewart would be THE key for the blues, but as Lyon continues to distance himself from his demons at representative level of the past, Stewart will need to form a similar combination with either Jennings or Morris quicksmart. If, and it’s a big if, he can, then the Blues may be well on their way.
The owner of Monstasport, Daniel Nichols is one of the most prolific featured guest writers on League Freak's web site.
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