Wednesday 21 March 2018 / 02:59 AM


Origin line-ups reaction, the recent big-money acquisitions of Josh Dugan and Dane Gagai, Nathan Ross’ treatment, and the embattled Warriors’ roster mismanagement all get a run in this week’s GOLDEN POINTS, along with a Round 11 appraisal of all 16 clubs.

Origin Line-ups Reaction


  • Given the Maroons’ blind loyalty in other areas of the line-up, leaving out a state legend doesn’t make much sense – especially when Darius Boyd only took over the No.1 jumper last year. Billy Slater is in great form and would definitely be up to the task despite his long layoff, while Boyd is arguably the greatest winger in Origin history. HATE IT
  • Test centre Will Chambers came in for Inglis, but the rest of the 2016 three-quarter line remained untouched. Corey Oates holding his spot ahead of Valentine Holmes was the contentious call for most, but if any player should have missed out it was Justin O’Neill, a solid but unspectacular centre. Dane Gagai should have moved in from the wing, with Holmes making his debut on the flank if Boyd wasn’t going to be moved there. DON’T LIKE IT
  • Assuming for a second that Johnathan Thurston is actually unlikely to play, Queensland have taken a big gamble with Anthony Milford at five-eighth. Milford is a big-game player – as he proved in the 2015 grand final – but Origin is a different beast, and he would be best blooded off the bench. Don’t be surprised to see Michael Morgan start. DON’T LIKE IT
  • At least form wasn’t completely thrown out the window as a criterion. Dylan Napa’s maiden call-up is well-deserved and much-needed up against a big, aggressive Blues pack. LOVE IT
  • A large portion of Queensland’s historical success has been built on loyalty, but a large portion of that loyalty has been out of necessity. Nate Myles’ form has been dreadful, and the Maroons had options with in-form props Jarrod Wallace and Korbin Sims pressing for a debut. This is Myles’ last chance. HATE IT
  • A case could be made for Wallace or Sims to snare a bench spot ahead of Jacob Lillyman, but the 33-year-old has been superb for the Maroons in recent campaigns and solid in a Warriors pack that is getting beaten up on a weekly basis. Deserves this chance. LIKE IT
  • It’s not that big of a deal, but it’s an interesting point to consider that Sam Thaiday has been selected on the bench in Origin for the first time since 2009. DON’T MIND IT
  • Aidan Guerra is another who is extremely lucky to retain his jumper after an indifferent season and a half at club and rep level, with Cowboys trio Gavin Cooper (who was an incumbent), Ethan Lowe and Coen Hess all more deserving. DON’T LIKE IT


  • Brett Morris has proved himself time and again at Origin level, but he’s been down on form in 2017 and his recall is a puzzling one with some fine candidates out there. If Tom Trbojevic had been available and Morris was still picked there would’ve been a riot. DON’T LIKE IT
  • Another hero of the 2014 triumph and a proven long-term Origin performer, Jarryd Hayne also got a recall but he is a defensive risk at centre. Would have been a better option on the wing, with Michael Jennings, Dylan Walker, James Roberts and Jack Bird all in great form and crying out for a spot. Jennings is particularly stiff, especially when a part-time centre like Dugan is a walk-up start. Luckily Hayne only has to mark up on Justin O’Neill. HATE IT
  • Mitchell Pearce won his recall, to surprisingly overwhelming acclaim given his appalling record at Origin level. But look, he’s been by far the best-performing NSW No.7 this season and seems a different player after the harrowing off-field lows of last year. If there was an in-form, experienced candidate available it may have been a different story, but Adam Reynolds has been ordinary in 2017 and a Moylan-Maloney combination is too risky. LIKE IT
  • Robbie Farah finally got the flick, so bravo to Laurie Daley on that count. Not sure Peter Wallace would have been the best option, but he suffered an ill-timed injury and the right man got the No.9 job in the end. Form-wise Cameron McInnes deserved consideration, but Nathan Peats’ tough and level-headed play will suit the Blues’ game-plan after several years of Farah overplaying his hand from dummy-half. LOVE IT
  • Paul Vaughan deserved a debut and was in my side, but looking at the Blues’ 17 it’s hard to say who you’d leave out to give the Dragons prop a guernsey – probably debutant Jake Trbojevic, who is in great form himself and has a few Tests under his belt already. Hopefully Vaughan gets his chance in this series…though the selection of Jack De Belin and Jordan McLean in the extended squad suggests maybe he’s still a couple of spots down the pecking order still. DON’T MIND IT
  • Test lock Trent Merrin has turned his form slump around at club level, but not enough to force his way back into the NSW side. Hard to argue with that – who would you leave out? Fellow No.13s David Klemmer and Jake Trbojevic have been outperforming him and are far better suited to be included in the front-row rotation, while Cordner, Frizell, Graham and to a lesser extent Jackson had to be there. LIKE IT
  • Tyrone Peachey would have been a great pick on the bench, but Jack Bird had to be in the 17 and offers more versatility in key positions with only a little less game-breaking impact. Bird at centre, Peachey on the bench would be my preference. DON’T MIND IT

Dugan Confusion

The Sharks have snared one of the game’s biggest fishes in Josh Dugan, cueing nine months of speculation over who will wear their No.1 jumper. The gap between Dugan’s value as a fullback or centre is bigger than the gap between Valentine Holmes’ value as a fullback or winger (if that makes sense), but either way the club is going to have a centre or winger chewing up marquee-level salary cap cash.

It’s not the worst situation to be in, though, and it’s a far better headache to have than the one confronting the Dragons ahead of 2018. How they thought they could get away with viewing him as a centre rather than a fullback from a contract negotiations perspective is beyond me, given he has only played fullback this year. Who wears the Red V No.1 next season? Jason Nightingale? Jai Field? Kurt Mann? Gareth Widdop? Will Hopoate and Michael Gordon are the only genuine off-contract fullback options on the market left to the Dragons after they refused to pay Dugan what he is worth.

Gagging for Gagai

There’s been some curious big-money signings for 2018. Bird to the Broncos. Dugan to the Sharks. Crazy cash for Ben Hunt. Ditto for Mitch Moses. But it’s refreshing to see a club address a weakness and take the best available option to shore it up, which is what Souths have done by signing Dane Gagai.

The Rabbitohs’ three-quarter line has been awful since winning the comp in 2014, hitting a new low this year. Gagai has been brilliant in a historically bad Newcastle side, is an Origin player (and a very high-performing one) entering his prime, versatile and a game-breaker. His departure is a huge shame for the Knights, but a big coup for the Bunnies.

Ross dogged by Knights

You will not see worse treatment of a player by his club or coach this year than Nathan Ross’ disgraceful dumping to reserve grade last week for speaking out on his contract situation. Ross has been one of the Knights’ top two or three players for the past couple of years, and easily their best value-for-money performer – as well as being one of the game’s genuine characters and a top bloke.

The Knights’ virtual gag order was appalling and the NRL should have stepped in. Ross is being underpaid and said so, which was a common occurrence not all that long ago. Nathan Brown has made a rod for his own back – dropping one of his stars potentially cost him a win on the weekend – but he also would zero understanding of Ross’ predicament, having copped Super League-era overs for most of his career as a Dragons golden boy. Poor, dictatorial leadership that raises questions about where the Knights are heading.

Roster Imposters

It’s all been said about the Warriors’ disgraceful display against the Dragons, one of the club’s all-time worst games. Their shortcomings are obvious: disorganised and uncommitted defence, sideways attack, no second-phase, poor kicking game, physically and mentally beaten to a pulp.

But those questioning how the Warriors can perform so poorly with such a star-studded spine are missing the bigger picture. There may have been better spines in the recent past, but none that were assembled after buying three-quarters of it from rival clubs at top dollar (though they did get Foran for unders). That huge salary cap commitment has left massive holes in their roster, particularly in the outside-backs and the forward pack. They need major bolstering and the fact Tohu Harris – a good but expensive replacement for Ryan Hoffman – is the only confirmed 2018 recruit is a huge concern.

Recent rumours suggest that the club’s top priority is chasing Te Maire Martin or even James Maloney to replace Canterbury-bound Kieran Foran. But as outlined in this column last week, the Warriors reached the finals with halves like Grant Rovelli, Michael Witt, Nathan Fien, Brett Seymour, and an unheralded Maloney-Shaun Johnson combo. Johnson and young Ata Hingano will be fine as the Warriors’ long-term halves – as long as they recruit some tough, high-quality props, back-rowers, centres and wingers

The Warriors turfed out long-serving recruitment manager Dean Bell in 2015 but they’ve got it horribly wrong since, which is why they find themselves in their current predicament.

Eleventh Impressions:

BRONCOS: Finally a polished 80-minute display (albeit against weak opposition), keeping a clean sheet and putting on an attacking show. Now the real test begins with six of their stars picked for Queensland…

RAIDERS: Important drought-breaking win for the Raiders, who did well to come from behind against a fired-up Eels outfit and snare the win.

BULLDOGS: Poor with and without the ball in the first half, great with and without it in the second stanza – but not quite enough to get them past the Roosters. It’s hard seeing this team being consistent enough to achieve anything but a first-week exit from the finals.

SHARKS: Great second-half comeback, providing a reminder that the premiers are one of the most dangerous teams in the NRL, as well as arguably the toughest and grittiest.

TITANS: A big step backwards after a few straight wins – and one of the best in club history just a week earlier. Hosted an injury-hit side but couldn’t get it together.

SEA EAGLES: That injury-hit side showed a ton of character to craft a resounding 20-point win over the Titans. Manly’s attack is electric when on song, with a host of maligned players (DCE, Walker, Uate) making sensational comebacks this year.

STORM: A Storm-like win in difficult conditions and a good bounce-back after their late collapse against the Titans. Hard not seeing them take out the minor premiership.

KNIGHTS: Built a big lead but couldn’t hang onto it. The Knights are a long-term project, but they need a few more experienced heads to help their promising-but-flighty youngsters.

COWBOYS: Soldiering on admirably but Matt Scott’s absence can’t be understated and they need JT back on deck quick smart. With Origin about to bite, the Cowboys are in real danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

EELS: Certainly an improvement on their heavy loss to the Roosters, but this side is going to struggle to win games when Corey Norman isn’t there. And if Clint Gutherson isn’t a better option at five-eighth than Mitchell Moses this year, then I’m a poor judge.

PANTHERS: Overturned another sizeable halftime deficit to run out strong winners, clawing their way back to within striking distance of the eight. But these sort of half-baked efforts aren’t going to cut it against the top sides.

DRAGONS: Their passion and determination is infectious. All the post-match focus was on how terrible the Warriors were, but the Dragons were outstanding without their two most influential players in Dugan and Widdop. Top-four material at full-strength.

RABBITOHS: One of their gutsier efforts, hanging in against Melbourne until the very end in tough conditions. Still don’t have the chops to challenge for the finals while Adam Reynolds is in such pedestrian form.

ROOSTERS: Another second-half clock-off, but they still found a way to hang on. The most potent attacking side in the NRL and very well placed as the halfway point of the competition draws near.

WARRIORS: So, so bad. Far worse than the collapse at Penrith. It’s a rich area, but that loss to the Dragons had to rank among the club’s most disappointing performances. Feeble defence, embarrassingly outmuscled with and without the ball, primary school-level errors and dreadful kicking game. Just awful.

TIGERS: Rub them out of finals calculations. Plenty of effort at Suncorp but there’s so many deficiencies in their roster that if they suffer an injury or two, they’re no hope. Ivan Cleary may as well start planning for 2018.

Try of the week

A breath-taking speculator from DCE, a long run and an offload from Aku, and the support play from Walker – Manly were on fire at Cbus Super Stadium last Saturday.

Under-pressure XIII

1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
2 Sosaia Feki
3 Blake Ayshford
4 Jarryd Hayne
5 Brett Morris
6 Mitchell Moses
7 Shaun Johnson
8 Nate Myles
9 Michael Lichaa
10 Tom Burgess
11 Bodene Thompson
12 Sam Stone
13 Greg Eastwood

Form Origin teams

1 Matt Moylan
2 Daniel Tupou
3 Dylan Walker
4 Michael Jennings
5 Anthony Don
6 Luke Keary
7 Mitchell Pearce
8 Ryan James
9 Nathan Peats
10 Paul Vaughan
11 Boyd Cordner
12 Wade Graham
13 Jack de Belin

14 Tyrone Peachey
15 James Maloney
16 Andrew Fifita
17 Tyson Frizell

1 Billy Slater
2 Corey Oates
3 Will Chambers
4 Dane Gagai
5 Darius Boyd
6 Anthony Milford
7 Ashley Taylor
8 Korbin Sims
9 Cameron Smith
10 Dylan Napa
11 Matt Gillett
12 Coen Hess
13 Josh McGuire

14 Sam Thaiday
15 Felise Kaufusi
16 Jarrod Wallace
17 Michael Morgan

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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