NRL great and former NSW captain PAUL GALLEN will appear on Nine’s 100% FOOTY on Monday night, debating rugby league’s hottest topics alongside Phil Gould and James Bracey. Tune in from 10pm AEST, following all the action of Round 12 plus the selection of both State of Origin squads!
It’s a strong line-up, with the Blues trying to reclaim the shield from Queensland. Here are my thoughts on each position.
FULLBACK: James Tedesco
Tom Trbojevic may have been in red-hot form at fullback for Manly but you can’t leave James Tedesco out.
He’s done nothing wrong at any level of the game – Test, Origin, NRL – to not keep the fullback spot.
While Turbo’s been killing it this season, Tedesco has been playing pretty well too, to be honest. When Turbo has had a big game, Tedesco has answered it.
And that’s in a Roosters team featuring other superstar players, where it’s tough to stand out, while Turbo tends to be head and shoulders above his Manly teammates when they’re winning and takes all the spotlight.
WING: Brian To’o and Josh Addo-Carr
There’s no better winger in the competition than Brian To’o when it comes to getting sets started and putting a team on the front foot.
His positional play is fine, so the only possible question mark over the debutant is his height, likely marking up on Xavier Coates.
Having said that, I can’t remember ever seeing him jumped over. Whether it’s the protection he gets from Stephen Crichton and Matt Burton on that edge, I’m not sure, so the Blues may need to look at that.
Josh Addo-Carr’s recent form has been absolutely outstanding. I’ve said that if there’d been any doubt over his form, any question marks at all, I’d quite easily put Burton or Crichton in the NSW centres and move Tommy Turbo to the wing.
But you couldn’t – The Foxx has been on fire lately and deserved to keep his spot.
CENTRE: Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic
I didn’t pick Latrell in my side last week, because he’d only just come back from a four-week suspension and South Sydney were pumped 56-12.
But on early-season form, there’s no argument from me about him being there, he deserves his spot. He’s played at this level before and he’s one of the genuine stars of our game.
Turbo will have licence to roam around, as he did in 2019 when he was picked in the centres. He scored a hat-trick in Origin II that year, including that memorable try where he followed a bomb up the middle of the field and plucked it out of Kalyn Ponga’s hands in the in-goal area.
A player of his calibre, you just throw him in the side. He’s one of the form players in the NRL; you could throw him in anywhere and he’d do a job.
It became an issue last year that NSW didn’t pick specialist centres; Clint Gutherson and Jack Wighton were there. But having said that, Kurt Capewell isn’t a specialist centre and that second half from him in Origin I was one of the great performances we’ve seen for Queensland.
I understand the talk and NSW were exposed in the centres last series. But Latrell has been a centre all his life, before moving to fullback for the Rabbitohs last year; he knows exactly what he’s doing. And Turbo is a natural footy player, so there’s no arguments from me.
HALVES: Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary
Jarome Luai deserves to be making his NSW debut. His form since last year has no doubt warranted selection.
The only question mark for him now: can he do it at this level? We’ve seen many, many players over the years, outstanding club players, get to Origin and not be able to do it.
Penrith have lost just two games since the start of last season. Almost at no stage have they played on the back foot. Nearly every single game, their back five have started their sets strongly and their forwards have dominated.
Luai has always been playing on the front foot, always playing attacking football off the back of good play-the-balls. That’s what he’s so good at.
The big job for NSW’s forwards is to replicate that, to make sure they’re giving Luai the platform to play his natural game. If they’re on the back foot, what sort of impact is he going to have then?
He was my pick as Blues five-eighth, so let’s hope he can answer these questions and perform at this level. He deserves his chance and now it’s up to him.
NSW had could have just picked Jack Wighton, a player who we know can perform in Origin, having been there the past couple of years. But on form, you had to pick Luai.
We’ve heard Brad Fittler speak about his regrets in selecting last year’s team; which I read as being about not picking players who were in the best form. If he’s backing form this year, you have to pick Jarome Luai, there’s no question about it.
Cleary picks himself. He’s been there and won series before, plus he’s been the form player of the competition, as the Dally M Medal and point-scoring leader.
Cleary has always done a good job in Origin and I have no doubt that having Luai outside him will make him a whole lot more comfortable. They’ve been playing together for years, so having that combination should bring out the best in him.
We know how good he is at steering around his team, how strong his kicking game is. Hopefully he can just grab the game by the scruff of the neck and control things. Kicking well and field position in Origin is so important.
If Cleary can get that stuff right, hopefully the creative, ad-lib attacking stuff can follow from the likes of Luai and Tedesco.
HOOKER: Damien Cook
While he hasn’t set the world on fire this season, making those trademark line breaks, I think Damien Cook was better on the weekend.
He’s been there the past few years, including two series wins, and he deserved to keep his spot. Apisai Koroisau has missed half the season so far and while his Penrith side is running hot, he’s only been back for a couple of weeks.
Cook is a senior player and you need those guys. You need experience at this level.
NSW already have two debutants, including one in a key position (Luai). I don’t think that you want too many new blokes out there at once. Senior players like Cook, who have been there and done it, are invaluable in Origin.
FRONT-ROW: Daniel Saifiti and Jake Trbojevic
I had Reagan Campbell-Gillard at prop, he can count himself unlucky, but I’ve got no issue with the two blokes named.
Jake was an interesting one earlier this season. The way Manly were going, and the way guys like Isaah Yeo and Cameron Murray were playing … Andrew Johns initially left Jake out of his side, when normally he’d be one of the first players you’d pick.
Jake is a player you want to play with, he’s been there and performed for NSW before; yet with Manly struggling and other guys in form, it was a genuine question mark.
I think it’s a good selection to have him in the front-row. He plays the middle of the field without being as dynamic as Yeo or Murray, though he’s got great ball skills and passing ability. Having both he and Yeo starting in the middle with the ability to ball-play looks like smart selection.
Saifiti is your classic old-school, tough front-rower. He’ll make his 150 metres, take those hard charges up the middle and make his tackles.
BACK-ROW: Cameron Murray, Tariq Sims, Isaah Yeo
With the injuries and suspensions NSW have at the moment – including captain Boyd Cordner, who is yet to even play this year – naming a back-row this strong shows you NSW’s depth.
Cam Murray’s been picked on the right edge and he’ll do a great job there but I’ve got no doubt that his best position is in the middle. Maybe when Liam Martin comes on, he goes to right edge, Isaah Yeo comes off and Murray spends time in the middle.
Tariq Sims went under the radar a bit; I didn’t pick him in my team last week, given he was suspended and just coming back. But with Cordner and Tyson Frizell injured, Angus Crichton suspended and Wade Graham not being picked, Sims was a strong option for the left edge.
Everything that happened for the Dragons on Friday night happened around him and his form before the suspension was good, so no arguments with his selection. He adds a bit of an intimidation factor, which not many players have these days; he’s a really rugged defender and a strong runner, runs good lines and is hard to bring down.
I feel really sorry for Victor Radley, being banned when he should have made his debut this series, but Yeo’s form means that he deserves to be there. He’s a proper ball-playing lock, a nice link between the hooker and the halves. Having the Penrith combination with Luai and Cleary will only add to the Blues’ game.
He’s also got a strong running game, he can take the line on and make good metres, plus he’s a strong defender. I always had him in my 13, even if Radley was available.
BENCH: Wighton, Paulo, Haas, Martin
I had Jack Wighton as my No.14. I remember thinking a few weeks ago, with Canberra struggling and Origin approaching, ‘Where does he fit in this side?’
Luai deserved the No.6 jersey but by playing Wighton as a utility, you can literally put him anywhere on the field. He mostly plays on the left edge but you could even put him at lock; at 190cm and 100kg, he’d have no issues defending in the middle. He covers the halves, fullback, centre; a great utility.
Junior Paulo brings X-factor off the bench. His offloading and passing ability, his bump and run, he brings plenty of options to the table.
The big fella, Payne Haas, has to be there even though his Brisbane side has been struggling so much. His performance have been outstanding and NSW could start him if they decide that they want more leg speed on the field from the opening kick-off. If not, that leg speed and Paulo’s weapons will be handy to introduce after 20-25 minutes, when players are starting to get tired.
Martin deserves his debut. While he’s playing off the bench at Penrith, that’s only because Kurt Capewell – already an Origin player – is going so well on their right edge.
How good is this time of year.
State of Origin is back where it belongs. The NSW vs Queensland banter is about to ramp up.
I love it and the best is yet to come. Bring it on.
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