The players Blues must blood
Wade Graham: Tyson Frizell was easily NSW’s best in his stead, but Graham has to be there for Game 3. The Blues desperately require some variety and skill on the edges, plus Graham brings all the requisite toughness and mental strength needed to succeed at Origin level.
Bryce Cartwright: His performance against Souths suggested he’s probably the best option NSW have to come into the halves for Adam Reynolds, but otherwise he’s a must for the backrow or bench.
Ryan James: A bit of an enigma previously, James has been one of 2016’s standout forwards. He has scored seven tries – only four short of the premiership record for a front-rower – and regularly churns through 20-plus carries and 50-plus tackles, while making plenty of impact on both sides of the ball. Still only 24, James’ time is now.
James Tedesco: It’s pretty obvious ‘Teddy’ is the best fullback in the NRL right now, and it would be moronic to leave him out given he almost certainly would’ve been there if fit at the start of the series. Nothing against Matt Moylan – and he could be a halves option – but Tedesco offers more punch from the back.
Tom Trbojevic: Did Blake Ferguson even play on Wednesday? Somehow he got an armchair ride into the Test and Origin line-ups this year, but he’s done nothing to deserve retention. Young Tom is a freakish talent with just as much physical presence and versatility as Ferguson, but is a far better long-term option.
Jake Trbojevic: Big, tough, skilful and mobile – Jake fits the bill big-time for the Blues. Despite talking a big game, the NSW forwards have never looked genuinely like getting on top of their Queensland counterparts and changes are required in tight. Trbojevic has the goods and shapes as a future leader.
Sione Mata’utia: Brilliant in a dreadful team, Mata’utia is rediscovering the form that catapulted him into the record books as Australia’s youngest-ever Test player. He only turned 20 last week, but handing the Knights powerhouse a debut would be a big investment in the Blues’ future. Forget Joey ‘The Liability’ Leilua – Sione is your man.
Tyrone Peachey: Jack Bird was excellent off the bench in Game 2, but he should be moved into the centres – which would allow the even more versatile and dynamic Peachey to grab a bench spot. NSW need more than a hint of the unpredictable, and the Panthers utility provides it in barrow-loads.
Nathan Peats: Robbie Farah is done and should never have been picked for Game 1. Michael Ennis may have given the Blues a chance at winning the series, but there’s no point bringing him back now. Peats is the next best available for NSW, and will at least match Farah’s work-rate…minus the selfish attitude in attack.
Dale Finucane: A significant portion of Queensland’s success is built on picking hard grafters like Dallas Johnson, Corey Parker, Nate Myles, Ashley Harrison and Neville Costigan. NSW have repeatedly overlooked the claims of players like Shaun Fensom and Aiden Tolman in favour of flashier, more fashionable types, to their recurring detriment. But it’s not too late with 24-year-old Storm workhorse Finucane, an industrious, hard-hitting backrower who won’t wilt in the face of Maroon pressure.
Reagan Campbell-Gillard: A real hard nut who cares little for opponents’ reputations and, unlike some of the Blues’ chest-beating forwards, isn’t obsessed with his own. He’s the type of young lion that could become a Nate Myles-type for NSW.
Brett Morris: Hardly new to Origin level, but a three-try return in his first match of 2016 suggests ‘B-Moz’ – an automatic pick for the Blues in recent years when injuries have allowed – would be up to a Game 3 recall.
Maroons ponder Morgan replacement
Queensland have their own, albeit less critical, selection quandary to address. With Michael Morgan set to miss the decider with a knee injury, who takes his spot on the bench? In-form Ben Barba has been spruiked as a candidate, but he doens’t possess the big body to play the roving backrower/middle defender role Morgan does off the bench for the Maroons.
Corey Norman, who has also enjoyed a stellar campaign and is experienced in the halves and at fullback, may be more suitable. Daly Cherry-Evans, who was an interchange staple for Queensland and Australia from 2013-15, could get a recall after a strong showing opposite Johnathan Thurston on Monday night.
Perhaps one of the Maroons’ long-suffering hookers might be given a go. Jake Friend and Jake Granville wouldn’t let anyone down wherever they played, while the dead-rubber status of this clash could give Cameron Smith the luxury of stepping into a playmaker role or even getting a spell on the bench.
If the Maroons opt to go down the four-forward route – and it would be an ideal game to give an Origin rookie a taste – then Joe Ofahengaue, Gavin Cooper, Scott Bolton, Ethan Lowe, Jayson Bukuya and Chris Grehvsmuhl could come into consideration.
But if it were up to me, Chris McQueen would grab a recall. He’s been in fine touch for the Titans, has been in the Origin arena before and covers backrow and the three-quarters.
Penalty try farce
The officials made the right decision in awarding Cronulla a penalty try against the Warriors…if it was last year. But the raft of non-penalty try calls this year in identical circumstances – one of which the Warriors were the beneficiary of six days earlier – made the call to award the Sharks a try perhaps the most mystifying Bunker effort of 2016.
The increasingly embarrassing Tony Archer declared there had been no change in interpretation of the rule during the week – yet that Luke Patten had made the right decision, because of some bogus ‘key indicators’. It was a complete cock-up, the Warriors were robbed. End of story. Check out this no-try from the Roosters-Warriors clash in Round 5 and decide whether Ryan Hoffman was as likely to have scored as Jayson Bukuya was last weekend.
Only Archer and his band of incompetents could get the same decision wrong repeatedly and virtually kill off an age-old rule, only to get it even more wrong by doing the inverse.
Semi the one-Test wonder
The fact Semi Radradra hasn’t returned to Parramatta yet and is making a mockery of the NRL should be enough to ensure he never pulls on the Australian jumper again. Highlighting the stupid decision Mal Meninga and co. made in handing the Fijian a debut in May, Radradra clearly has no loyalty to the Kangaroos, the Eels or rugby league. Good luck to him if he takes the insane money on offer in French rugby, but this drawn-out saga means there cannot be a seat for Semi on the Four Nations plane if he does slip back into the Parramatta fold – particularly when the likes of Corey Oates, Dane Gagai, Josh Mansour and Valentine Holmes would crawl over broken glass for the chance to represent their country.
— 7 News Sydney (@7NewsSydney) June 26, 2016
I’m a big fan of Andrew McFadden as a coach and a person, but his inclination to continually recall Jonathan Wright has to be one of the most baffling selection sagas in NRL history. The bumbling three-quarter was belatedly demoted after the Warriors’ appalling effort against Canberra, but somehow wormed his way back into a line-up that had won three straight – at the expense of one of their best performers, Tui Lolohea. Wright repaid ‘Cappy’s’ misguided faith with another error-riddled display that could have been the difference between victory and defeat in an otherwise heroic team effort.
— UBET (@UBET) June 25, 2016
Thank you for being a Friend
One of the game’s good guys, Gold Coast hooker Nathan Friend, has announced he’ll be hanging up the boots at the end of the year. A veteran of 235 NRL games over 15 seasons, the 35-year-old hasn’t exactly scaled the game’s heights, but he’s been a tremendous servant for the Broncos, Storm (who he played in a grand final for in 2006), Titans and Warriors. Given he was one of the most industrious and workmanlike No.9s in the game, it’s ironic – yet oddly fitting – that he is destined to be remembered chiefly for his back-flip try assist for the Warriors, which earned the Peter Frilingos Headline Moment of the Year gong at last year’s Dally Ms.
Last week was a sad one in rugby circles, with the passing of two esteemed former Australian Test players. Cronulla legend Greg Pierce – one of the club’s three original ‘Immortals’ along with Gavin Miller and Andrew Ettingshausen – died following a long illness, aged 66. The 210-game Sharks stalwart played eight Tests from 1973-78 and toured with the 1978 Kangaroos.
— Matt Russell (@MattRussellFOX) June 25, 2016
Brian Fitzsimmons was one of the game’s finest hookers of the 1960s and early-1970s, playing four Tests. A journeyman for Brothers Cairns, Babinda, Colts Ayr, Brothers Gladstone and Brothers Brisbane, he represented Queensland 20 times. Fitzsimmons died last week aged 74.
Try of the week
Imagine what Nathan Ross could do on the end of a backline in a top-shelf team. A wholehearted performer who oozes cult-hero qualities, Ross is a far better footballer than most given him credit for.
Underachiever of the week
Haven’t the Broncos hit the skids? A slight downturn is always expected during Origin time, but the former title favourites’ slide started beforehand, with Saturday’s 40-14 mauling at the hands of Canterbury their fifth loss in seven outings. And it’s the non-Origin players – Milford, Hunt, Roberts, Wallace, Blair, Nikorima – that really need to start picking up their game, or that all-important top-four spot might get a bit difficult to cement in the latter rounds.
Overachiever of the week
Not much between the Warriors, Tigers and Sea Eagles, who pushed the three best teams in the NRL to the brink during daunting road assignments. The Warriors produced a finals-quality display at Shark Park, fighting back from an eight-point deficit to force the game into extra-time. Maintain that sort of commitment and they’ll be in the top eight for sure. The Tigers were on course to equal the biggest comeback in premiership history after trailing Melbourne 26-0 at AAMI Park, with Luke Brooks and James Tedesco’s attacking class shining through before they eventually went down 29-20. Manly fought back on multiple occasions against the Cowboys in Townsville, with only goalkicking proving the difference in a spirited 30-26 loss.
My new favourite player
There haven’t been many good-news stories to come out of Brookvale this year, but the emergence of robust forward Addin Fonua-Blake has been a big plus. Making just his sixth NRL appearance, the 20-year-old scored a five-minute double through the teeth of the Cowboys’ goal-line defence to give the Sea Eagles a shock lead at the hour-mark. One to keep an eye on.
Form Origin Teams
To give Laurie Daley one last gentle push in the right direction, here’s how the teams should stack up for Game 3 if form is the primary consideration.
NEW SOUTH WALES
1 James Tedesco
2 Josh Mansour
3 Jack Bird
4 Sione Mata’utia
5 Tom Trbojevic
6 James Maloney
7 Chad Townsend
8 Ryan James
9 Michael Ennis
10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard
11 Wade Graham
12 Tyson Frizell
13 Bryce Cartwright
14 Dale Finucane
15 Shannon Boyd
16 Josh Jackson
17 Luke Lewis
1 Ben Barba
2 Valentine Holmes
3 Justin O’Neill
4 Dane Gagai
5 Corey Oates
6 Johnathan Thurston
7 Cooper Cronk
8 Matt Scott
9 Cameron Smith
10 Josh McGuire
11 Chris McQueen
12 Matt Gillett
13 Corey Parker
14 Jacob Lillyman
15 Ricky Leutele
16 Ethan Lowe
17 Scott Bolton