The four players considered certainties for Brad Fittler’s NSW side
It has to be: one series win in the last 12 means something has to change.
He doesnt pick his first side until late May but, as this column understands, there are only four players who should consider themselves a lock for the first game at the MCG on June 6: captain Boyd Cordner, backrower Tyson Frizell, five-eighth James Maloney and prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard.
Lets look at the many cards on Fittlers table.
Incumbent James Tedesco might be struggling to find his feet at the Roosters but he was among the Blues best last series — yet hes no certainty of selection.
The other option, of course, is Manlys Tom Trbojevic.
Fittler might take the lead of Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga and play him in the centres as he did at times during the World Cup. Or he could play on the wing. Hes a waste if hes just lurking around camp in a sky blue tracksuit as a shadow player as he did last year.
Fittlers concern with both of them isnt their ability to score tries — but stopping them.
When Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson decided the best way to prepare for last years decider was to drain a few schooies in the TAB area of a Lennox Heads hotel, many thought that was the end of their Origin careers.
Its not the case, although Fittler will be choosing players as much on character as ability. He hates social media and phones and footballers locking themselves away in their hotel room playing PlayStation or Xbox or Atari or whatever it is grown men do with their spare time these days.
That said, Fergusons form for the Roosters has been irresistible. He's playing every bit like a player off the drink and coming off contract — always a welcome combination.
Hes on the right wing. Whos playing left?
It cant be Brett Morris because hes injured. Penriths Josh Mansour has a fractured cheekbone. The Storms' Josh Addo-Carr is still on Fittlers radar and despite his brain explosion against the Tigers.
Roosters centre Latrell Mitchell is a gun — and a natural fullback if he ever gets fit enough.
He might be a year away from Origin but I would have him on the wing, if not centre. It must be somewhere.
On the left, Fittler could play Dugan, Mitchell, Jarrod Croker, Curtis Scott. On the right, theres James Roberts, Dylan Walker and Jack Bird.
Some can play left and right. Some prefer one side to the other. You can bet whoever the coach selects wont be in the pub five days before kick-off trying to find the winner of the race about to jump at Muswellbrook.
Maloney and Luke Keary are both running five-eighths but Maloney has shown in the absence of injured halfback Nathan Cleary at Penrith that he can lead a side around the park, even if has been against the likes of Parramatta and the Gold Coast.
Keary would be a controversial selection: he was born in Ipswich and grew up supporting the Maroons but is eligible to play for NSW.
But Fittler would have no hesitation choosing him. Privately, he has never understood how Kempsey-born, Macksville-raised Greg Inglis is playing for Queensland and it wouldnt surprise if he felt the Blues deserved to get one back through Keary.
Warriors five-eighth Blake Green has been tossed up and while its a nice headline he's considered a slim chance. Tigers half Luke Brooks is just a little late to the party but hed cause a few selection-room headaches if he keeps dominating as he did against Manly.
Did we mention Mitchell Pearce?
The feeling out of Newcastle is Pearce is more than content to keep doing what hes doing for the Knights.
This position has been as problematic for NSW in recent years as halfback.
Nathan Peats is the incumbent but looked lost during last years series.
The appetite for his replacement shifts from match to match, from Manlys Api Koroisau to Souths Damien Cook, who has the speed of a winger. He could be a better option off the bench.
The No.9 that is impressing is the Dragons Cameron McInnes.
Fittler is doing a lot of talking behind the scenes and one man hes been chatting with is James Graham, who joined the Dragons this season and has been enormously impressed with McInnes attitude and distinct lack of selfishness.
If Reagan Campbell-Gillard is one bookend, whos coming with him?
Only in recent weeks have Aaron Woods and David Klemmer started to look like representative forwards, although that can be said of a few Australian players who have taken a while to get going this season.
Even with the injury to the Cowboys Jordan McLean, there are other options: Paul Vaughan from the Dragons, who is big and quick; Ryan James can play in the middle and on an edge; Trent Merrin has been the forgotten man when it comes to Origin but his form for Penrith has been outstanding and he's a big man who can play big minutes.
Apart from Cordner and Frizell, Fittler must find places for Jack de Belin and Jake Trbojevic. Dale Finucane is going good for the Storm and can play in the middle while Wade Graham is the utility every Origin side needs so his best place might be on the bench.
So there you go. Good luck with all that, Freddy. Coach of NSW: apart from abalone divers and snake milkers, who would want it?
Chief Sports Writer, The Sydney Morning Herald
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