Friday 20 October 2017 / 09:00 AM

RACE FOR BLUES’ NO.9 DOWN TO TWO

Origin selection conversations tend to dominate rugby league chat for much of the early part of the season. As the talk ramps up, one specific item rises above the pack as the most puzzling.

New South Wales, as has been the case for the better part of the decade, are scratching their heads when it comes to key positions. Debate has raged about who will wear the No.9 jumper for the Blues and, somehow, Robbie Farah’s name keeps getting thrown up.

Some state loyalty as cause for selection. Others say no one has presented a better case and they should stay with the incumbent. Some have said he is the best hooker in NSW…Huh!?!

For starters, loyalty is earned, not given. A decade’s worth of losing shouldn’t warrant automatic selection, especially if questions over selection have lingered for at least two years. Next, he isn’t even the best hooker at his own club, as evidenced by his current bench role. That title belongs to Damien Cook. Somehow, that has been misconstrued as a sign of praise for Cook, who is now generating his own imprudent Origin buzz. If he is starting instead of a ‘rep-level’ player, he too must be of rep standard, right?

Wrong. Cook has been solid for South Sydney in his first year in as a starter, but let’s pump the brakes. This is a 13th-placed team with three wins from nine games. His performance hasn’t been anything extraordinary and doesn’t warrant Origin selection anymore then Farah.

Sure, he or other bolter picks such as Apisai Korisau or Cameron McInnes could get a shot, and might put in a good effort, but that’d be moving away from the criteria for selection in the first place.

See, rep selection has and should always be about two things:

  • Picking the best team to win
  • Picking players who deserve to be picked

Obviously, they go hand-in-hand, and all good picks can be boiled down to one or both explanations. Conversely, some of the not-so-good picks go directly against this criteria. Remember the ill-fated bench selections of Dylan Walker or Jamie Buhrer?

Using this guideline, there are two logical options and there isn’t really a case for anyone else. Keep this in mind as we consider the field.

Firstly, the misguided premonition that players need to ‘match up’ with their opposite number from Queensland is ridiculous. Not only does that make no sense at all as that has no bearing on the outcome, considering exactly who the opposition is throws all comparisons out the window. Compare anyone to Cameron Smith and 99.9% of NRL players in history fall short.

Instead of looking across the park, NSW needs to make a savvy choice based on who fills their needs best.

The reasonable options: Nathan Peats or Peter Wallace.

Peats is hands down the best hooker from NSW. Of the candidates he has the most well-rounded game; he is an elite defender (40+ a game, very important and always translates), offers a solid running game (33 metres per game) and has a sneakily effective kicking game. His value to the Titans is immense – they outscore teams by 13.3 points whenever he’s been on the field, the top mark for any individual player in the league (second is future Immortal Matt Frawley!).

Wallace is reliable – you know what you’re getting. Although the least damaging ball-runner of the group, his days as a halfback serve his passing and kicking game well. He’s played games on the big stage before and won’t be intimidated by the intensity. He’ll provide a stable presence at acting half, direct traffic and get the pack going forward. Also important, like Peats, he is a legitimate 80-minute player. Cook and Farah average 50 and 45 minutes respectively. Korisau hovers around the 60-minute mark.

McInnes, the other 80 minute player in the mix, makes an interesting case with his great form in early 2017. Some of the credit has to go the work of the Dragons pack, but McInnes has been impressive in capitalising on that platform. However, he is relatively untested, and this is the first sustained stretch of good form in his career. At 23, he may just be the next hooker for NSW – but throwing him in prematurely will only stunt his development. With more qualified players ahead of him, the best course of action may be to allow him to grow.

Korisau’s biggest strengths are also his weaknesses. He is, by far, the best ball-runner of the group at 51 metres a game and generates the most line-break opportunities due to his running. He’s also the weakest defender, missing nearly four tackles a game and getting through the least amount of work. Korisau thrives in broken field play and tends to go missing within the confines of a team structure. Couple that with his sub-par defence and his case for selection unravels.

Peats and Wallace both have well-rounded games and are without any glaring weaknesses. Peats, at 26, is entering his prime and could hold the jersey down for some time, whilst Wallace has the experience to be trusted. There is still plenty of football to be played – and Laurie Daley loves him a bolter – but for now Peats is the best, and makes the most sense (and is most deserving) while Wallace is the most reliable.

Robbie Farah is neither. We’ll see what happens.

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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