We’re six rounds into the competition, and the cream of the crop is beginning to stand out above the rest of the pack. The likes of Penrith, Melbourne, South Sydney and Parramatta are standing tall, whilst the Cowboys, Tigers, Bulldogs and Brisbane are sitting low on the ladder.
Just a tick over seven weeks out from State of Origin, it’s that time of the year where the word ‘bolter’ gets thrown out there, and the Origin mainstays get questioned. After a 2020 series that saw a whopping 19 players debut across three games, expect a lot less players to earn their maiden Origin jerseys, with a host set to return to their respective sides after an injury ravaged past year.
There’s guaranteed changes to both teams, with the series returning to its regular format, after the COVID-affected predecessor saw an end of season Origin, spanning across just three weeks, and featuring pre-picked squads of 25.
There shouldn’t be any debutants for Queensland in Game I, at this stage at least. After debuting 14 new faces last year, a large chunk of the squad will be in their second series for the state. While AJ Brimson has been impressive, Kalyn Ponga’s return has reminded the rugby league community how good he can be, and should slot straight back in at fullback. Brimson will be a beyond handy utility for them.
Harry Grant will fight off Reed Mahoney for the starting hooker role after a phenomenal Game III debut from the bench, while David Fifita will slot straight into the left-edge back-row spot for the Maroons.
Whilst he’s played exclusively second-row for Penrith this season, expect Kurt Capewell to once again start in the centres, a position the state is certainly short on.
The rest of the 17 picks themselves. Xavier Coates will return on the wing as will the halves combination of Munster and Cherry-Evans. There’s a battle in the front-row, with Lindsay Collins beating out Moeaki Fotuaika, and Jai Arrow will deliver that energy off the bench that he’s brought to South Sydney in 2021.
Meanwhile in New South Wales, they’ll once again fail to pick a club centre in their centres, though it’ll be to much greater effect this time around. Clint Gutherson is gone from the side, with Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic the new three-quarters.
Zac Lomax is unlucky not to debut and Daniel Tupou will miss out despite playing well for the Roosters, but Brian To’o is a gun. He’s pledged his allegiance to Australia, and is eligible for Brad Fittler’s men.
Jack Wighton moves to five-eighth, he’s the reigning Dally M medallist and deserves a crack at his preferred position. Jarome Luai is another unlucky to miss selection, but there’s certainly question marks over whether he’s an ‘Origin player’.
Daniel Saifiti is a sure thing in the starting line-up, with a mix-up in the forward pack this year. Jake Trbojevic moves into the front-row to allow Cam Murray to start and continue that dynamic combination with Damien Cook. Boyd Cordner’s absence hands Angus Crichton another start alongside Tyson Frizell.
The bench utility is a tricky one to fill. Do you pick a versatile back-rower, a back? If fit, Kotoni Staggs is perfect for the role, able to slot into the backline or halves, and could even play back-row at a pinch. Victor Radley has been on the cusp for a long time now as well, but Ryan Papenhuyzen is second in the Dally M count for a reason.
People are quick to forget that ‘Paps’ has played the bench utility role before, coming off the pine in 13 of his first 16 NRL games back in 2019. His speed around the ruck would be deadly against tiring forwards, and could become a game-turning x-factor for the Blues.
While there’s six games to go before the respective squads are announced, players outside these 17’s have their work cut out for them if they are to make Brad Fittler or Paul Green’s sides. Every year there’s bolters, it’s time for some to emerge from the woodwork.
PREDICTED NEW SOUTH WALES BLUES SIDE
- James Tedesco
- Josh Addo-Carr
- Latrell Mitchell
- Tom Trbojevic
- Brian To’o
- Jack Wighton
- Nathan Cleary
- Jake Trbojevic
- Damien Cook
- Daniel Saifiti
- Angus Crichton
- Tyson Frizell
- Cameron Murray
PREDICTED QUEENSLAND MAROONS SIDE
- Kalyn Ponga
- Valentine Holmes
- Kurt Capewell
- Dane Gagai
- Xavier Coates
- Cameron Munster
- Daly Cherry-Evans
- Josh Papalii
- Harry Grant
- Christian Welch
- David Fifita
- Felise Kaufusi
- Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
PICK YOUR BLUES OR MAROONS SIDE HERE