If Michael Maguire hadn't already been follicly challenged, he certainly would have been pulling his hair out across the past two weeks.

The Blues coach had seen his two experienced number sevens in Adam Reynolds and Nathan Cleary go down with injury, creating chaos within his playmaking ranks.

Full disclosure I had a "who partners Nathan Cleary" piece locked and loaded for this past weekend. I submitted just hours before Cleary's hamstring injury.

It no longer becomes a question of who you partner with Cleary but who you name in both the six and seven with Cleary's hamstring injury confirmed to rule him out for the next eight weeks.

It's a far different question now, and one that could shape just how the series goes.

Below are the options and ultimately who I would select to represent New South Wales on the 5th of June in the series opener:

Matt Burton

Straight up, I had Matt Burton as the man to partner Cleary. His game just compliments the champion number seven so well.

I'd argue that now that Cleary is injured, Burton's selection becomes even more automatic. At six, although he'll play a hybrid role.

Cleary's kicking game is second to none. That is where Burton comes in. He's going to have to do a lot of kicking.

That monster bomb will be a huge weapon at Accor Stadium. So to his running game, which is powerful to say the least.

Burton is the Dogs main man but doesn't need his hands on the ball all the time. He can play the increased role if required though, which is super important as he may be playing beside a young halfback.

A potential ledge edge combination with Angus Chrichton is pretty enticing. Exciting even!

Defensively Burton is about as good as you'll get in the halves. He's tackling at over 87% in 2024 and can more than handle himself.

Burton is tailor made for Origin's physical style. He's big, he's strong, he can kick the ball to the Central Coast.

I wouldn't say he's a must select but he's pretty darn close.

Jarome Luai

The obvious choice would be to go right back to the recent Origin number six in Luai.

Luai has overseen three straight Premiership wins now and have enjoyed success at Origin level previously.

That said, it is time to look for a new partnership. The Luai run in Origin just hasn't delivered the sustained success it really should have.

Despite my calls to name Dylan Edwards at one (which I stand by), I'd be looking to break up the Panthers combo here for a more creative option. Especially now that Cleary is out.

Truthfully I don't believe Luai has been anywhere near as bad as some have insisted in recent Origins but his Instagram antics don't help.

I'm not going to be leading protest marches should Luai's name be called in a few weeks time, but there are better options right now.

Mitchell Moses

Moses is set to return for Magic Round which gives him a fortnight or so to impress.

Unless he plays worldly football, he's probably not going to come into serious contention for Origin 1.

Well that was at least until the injury to Nathan Cleary.

Equally at home at six as seven, he play play either role. Be that beside any other player on this list. This is a huge plus.

His chances have risen, threefold, since Cleary's injury. He is the only genuine halfback on this list with Origin experience.

Moses may be named simply due to the Blues need to run out with a seven who has been there before.

He has the talent so I'd certainly not be worried if he were named. I do think that if he had come back two weeks ago and had a solid month of footy under his belt that he'd be a near certainty.

If Moses doesn't play Origin 1, he'll certainly be in the reckoning for games two and three.

Nicho Hynes

Hynes was thrown to the wolves last year, without a plan, by a coach who seemed to lack any sort of vision.

He copped undue criticism for a coaching error. It ruined his confidence and set the Sharks back weeks as Hynes had to re-find that spark that saw him picked.

That won't happen should he be named to start, and with a plan!

Take no notice of this "Nicho can't play in the big games" nonsense. He has been the Sharks best in all three Finals they've played during his time.

The Sharks haven't lifted and Nicho is an easy scapegoat.

He could handle this situation. He's a brilliant footballer and is in blistering form right now.

Despite wearing the seven for the Sharks, his game can easily be tweeked to play a more supportive number six role if needed.

Like Moses, he can play six or seven. It depends on how Madge wants to set it up.

48 hours ago I didn't see Hynes as the option but now he may be lining up for his first Origin start in the halfback role. In fact right now I'd say he's favourite.

Cody Walker

It feels like forever ago now but it's worth remembering that Walker is the incumbent number six. He played very well in last year's series closer, in a winning effort no less.

Souths horror start to the season will hinder his chances. His form has not been impressive, albeit with a number of mitigating factors coming into consideration.

I fully understand calls for him to retain his spot but Walker's struggles in 2024 have him down the pecking order for mine.

NRL Rd 6 - Bulldogs v Rabbitohs

Do not get me wrong, he's won on this stage before and would do a far better job in a rep arena but right now Walker should be 100% focused on Souths.

Yesterday I wrote that I can't see him being named unless Cleary went down and the Blues needed an experienced half. Well, that certainly brings him right back into calculations.

Jack Wighton

To be totally frank, Wighton's name is only here due to rumours he's considering backflipping on representative retirement.

Not to suggest he couldn't do the job, but his form hasn't been great and him playing in the centres counts against him.

Worth a mention but not at five-eighth. If the Blues need a big body to play a utility role, and Wighton declares himself available, then he's worth a look.


Burton is a near automatic selection for mine. His game takes pressure off the halfback. He complimented Cleary perfectly and was my original selection. He is even more important now.

At halfback it comes down to Moses vs Hynes.

If Moses is firing, you pick him. If not, Hynes is leading the Dally M race (at point of typing) and has the Sharks leading the competition.

If not now, then when?

Burton and Hynes is the combination I'd run with and expect to be picked come Origin 1.