If I had any kind of a profile as a writer I’d be worried Wayne Bennett would put this article up in the locker room and use it to inspire his ragtag Queenslanders to victory.
Luckily I’m a lowly Rookie, so I can revel in the depth New South Wales is currently blessed with.
I’ve assembled a team of players not selected by Freddy who would have a real chance of taking out this series. To clarify, I didn’t name anybody selected in the 21-man squad and I’ve tried to keep a like-for-like side with three props and an attacking bench option.
Check it out and let me know who you think should or shouldn’t be there.
1. Matt Dufty One of the few players on this list who has a lot of work to do before he’s making a New South Wales team. That’s not to say Dufty isn’t a dynamic player who could light up the Origin arena, he just happens to be stuck behind Teddy, King Gutho and when fit Tommy Turbo.
Dufty’s 2020 was sublime, adding a passing game worth 12 try assists to his electric ball running worth 13 tries. Sure his light frame and defensive deficiencies would count against him in the selection room, memories of Brett Hodgson would haunt the Blues panel. But in years gone past when New South Wales weren’t as well off he may well have earned a call up.
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2. David Nofoaluma In contrast to Dufty, how much work can one bloke do before he’s rewarded?
The Dally M winger of the year had a monster season in an average Tigers side. 17 tries (one more than Josh Addo-Carr, six more than Daniel Tupou) as well as seven try assists, the Wests Tigers player of the year didn’t even make Freddy’s top 27 players. Again there is stiff competition on the wing, but Fittler’s reluctance to pick Nofo – as well as a few public lashings of the club – have some suggesting he’s got a problem with the Tigers.
That theory seems dubious, Nofolouma’s lack of big game experience coupled with Topou’s height and Addo-Carr’s speed have probably cost him a spot.
3. Bradman Best A true victim of New South Wales depth in 2020, considering neither starting centre has played that position during club footy this year. Best is already a Blues viral sensation after scoring a length of the field try to win the under-16s Origin series. The teenage sensation burst out the gate in his first full NRL season, scoring seven tries in nine games before succumbing to an ankle injury in Round 12. A pure scorer who seems to stand up in clutch moments, it would be a crying shame if this young man isn’t in sky blue very soon.
4. Jarrod Croker A calm and reliable leader and as trustworthy as players come, Croker could captain the Blues if it were asked of him and do it with class. 2020 was a quieter year than we’re used to from the Canberra stalwart, however Croker’s game has always been to make those around him shine. He takes the tough tackles, he knows when to pass and when to hold the ball, he’ll rarely slip up in defence and if he does he’ll make up for it before the final siren. Overlooked year after year for players with more athletic ability or skill, this year is no different.
5. Nick Cotric Just edging out Josh Mansour with 14 tries to 12, and 126 tackle breaks to the sauce’s 69. The first player on this list with Origin experience, Cotric had another productive year at Canberra and would be a challenge for Xavier Coates or Phillip Sami, who will both make their debuts tonight. While Cotric didn’t exactly dazzle in his Origin debut, he was solid in a losing side, making good post-contact metres and tackling with force. He was edged out of Game 2 by Tom Trbojevic, who went on to score three tries, and hasn’t played since, but if his form stays this hot at Canterbury and a few stars align, we could see the new Bulldog get a second chance.
6. Mitchell Moses The man many thought would be playing six for the Blues at the start of the season, now he could be back as far as fourth in line. It’s no secret Freddy has had an eye on the Parramatta playmaker since their time together in the Lebanon side, but Moses has yet to stamp his authority on a full season. That being said, he is making progress, from a wooden spoon in 2018 to a semi-final in 2019 and a prelim in 2020.
Moses often shoulders the blame when the Eels lose and similarly he is heavily involved when they win. When he’s on, his kicking, running and passing games are all elite. Blocking his selection, however, are a little three-time premiership winner, the Dally M medalist and a young Panther with a spring in his step and a lot of tricks in his bag.
7. Mitchell Pearce Okay, snubbed is the wrong word. But it would be fair for Mitchell Pearce to feel a tad unlucky in terms of the timing of his career. Had he bloomed a littler later, or if Nathan Cleary didn’t come of age so quickly, Pearce would be the halfback of this dominant and experienced Blues side – two qualities desperately lacking in the teams he played in and abundant in his opposition.
While his year was a bit up and down with Newcastle, his big game experience and leadership coupled with his playmaking ability would compliment the talent around him. While there’s definitely a case for Adam Reynolds, last year’s Game 3 tells you Pearce is closer should Cleary go down with injury again.
8. David Klemmer Now that’s a snub! Do I have to explain? Ran for almost 180 metres a game, second in the NRL in post-contact metres. A loyal servant with 14 games experience, it’s been suggested his attitude after being dropped then subsequently recalled for the 2019 series is a reason for his snubbing, but he was pretty unlucky to be dropped that year too.
Brad Fittler obviously values speed in his forwards which seems a more plausible reason for Klemmer’s omission, but if he were running out in sky blue a few Queensland debutants might be a little more nervous.
9. Apisai Koroisau Was looking likely for a call up until Damien Cook reminded everybody late in the season why he is the most damaging dummy half in the game. Koroisau shone this year, rolling out creativity and quickness as well as composure in his decision making. His game still has a few little mistakes in it, but the minor premiership-winning hooker would give Wayne Bennett a lot to think about, and would bring the likes of Tyson Frizell and Boyd Cordner into the game even more.
Despite the fact Cameron McInnes was named as a reserve, I dare say if (Peter V’Landys forbid) Cook got injured, Api would be next in line.
10. Paul Vaughan A battle tested Origin performer that could handle the likes of Christian Welch and Josh Papalii defensively for the most part – nobody stops big Papi when he’s on. Vaughan didn’t have his best year, but he’s proven himself a big game player and try sneak. Having played every Origin game these past two years he’d feel a bit hard done by and the Blues might miss his go forward should things get tough in the middle. Another example of New South Wales showing that in success or in failure, there’s no loyalty south of the border.
11. Josh Jackson A Brad Fittler medalist in 2016, Jackson played every game from 2015-2017, but he can’t buy a game under Freddy. At 29, the Bulldogs captain still has plenty left in the tank, and for those three years Jackson showed he’ll leave absolutely everything on that field. It’s possible his lack of success at club level has affected his perception but, if called upon, Josh Jackson would not let his state down.
12. Ryan Matterson Named as 18th man last year and surely not too far away again, the rangey back rower has an engine built for Origin and would no doubt rack up big tackle numbers. His skill with the ball and ability to offload would create space and opportunity for the likes of Addo-Carr and Jack Wighton in broken play. Perhaps another argument point for the Freddy hates the Tigers crew, but if Matterson continues to play the way he is in clubland he should earn a call up in the next few years.
13. Wade Graham A massive part of the Blues’ turnaround in 2019, showing his versatility on the big stage by slotting in at five-eighth and tearing Queensland apart. Another incumbent coming off an indifferent season in club land, Graham’s Sharks limped into the finals. However, Origin, as they say, is a different game. In the rapidly paced melting pot of skill and talent that is State of Origin, a big bodied backrower with the skills of a half and the heart of a champion will always be a huge asset.
14. Tyrone Peachey With Jarome Luai named as a reserve and Cody Walker manning the bench, the Peach has been pushed back in the x-factor pecking order. Peachey isn’t performing at the level that got him selected in 2018, though he’s a favourite of Brad Fittler for a reason. A dangerous runner with upper body strength who plays what he sees, Peachey is more than capable of a few origin highlights. In this era he’ll have to outperform some quality players to get there. Would have been Dylan Walker if he weren’t in the news.
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15. Moses Leota Andrew Johns put it best – he just charges. 108 kilograms of muscle and passion running faster than a man that size should be able to run, Leota seems the perfect representative bench player. His footwork at the line and shattering defence have already caught the eye of Blues selectors, at 25 he looks earmarked to make his Origin debut post haste. Would have been in the starting side if he wasn’t such an impact sub.
16. Isaah Yeo Just missing out on the Blues final 21-man squad, the Dubbo product has vastly improved over the past two years. Averaging 140 metres a game with a tackling efficiency over 94 per cent, it’s no wonder the Bulldogs are reportedly keen on his signature. A big body with a bigger engine and surprisingly good ball playing ability, Yeo looks like another Blue of the future.
17. Tariq Sims In an injury hampered season Sims only managed nine appearances for the Dragons and never really got put in a position to impress. Still, as the Dragons limped to the finish line, Sims began to look like the player who got called up for Game 2 last year. At his best, Sims is a destructive ball runner who can change games using his quickness and size in defence and attack. He fits the mould of the agile forward Freddy seems to think necessary for origin success, hopefully he’ll return in 2021 after an injury free off season and be back at his best.