I have to admit this is not something I really believe should be talked about only five rounds into NRL competition, but this is something that is asked so often it can no longer be avoided.
Who would I choose if I had to name a NSW side right now?
The below is the 17 men I would send into battle and a brief explanation as to why. This is the not side I predict will run out June, but it’s the side I would choose.
So much can happen over the next two months, but as I said, this comes up so often, and after every NRL game, and then again at the end of the round, so much talk is ‘so and so for Origin’.
Let me know the 17 men you’d send out if you disagree with the below (and plenty will).
James Tedesco has been the form player of the competition over the opening five weeks, and I honestly can’t see anyone in the same conversation as to who is the best fit for the blues role. As good as Dugan is, Tedesco offers far more in attack and can assume the role Jarryd Hayne excelled at in 2014. Should be the first player picked.
2. Josh Mansour
Mansour has made a barnstorming start to the season. He is busting tackles for fun and is back scoring tries. A huge piece of the Origin puzzle is making difficult metres from kick returns and Mansour can do just that. He will likely mark Darius Boyd which means there won’t be a big height difference, which has reportedly worried selectors in the past.
Jennings has been solid yet unspectacular during his opening month and a bit at the Eels but has all the experience and talent to warrant selection at left centre. He has been one of NSW’s best over the past few seasons and has shown glimpses in 2016. When he finds form the Eels and blues will be much more dangerous as a result.
When he is on, James Roberts is the most exciting and dangerous centre in the competition and you simply cannot overlook that. His efforts over the past fortnight for the Broncos have been highlight after highlight as he has settled into his new club. Arguably the fastest player in the competition, he is a must select.
5. Josh Dugan
Despite being overlooked for his regular fullback position, Dugan’s ability to punch holes in the defence when returning kicks earns him a spot on the wing. He’s great under the high ball and has the speed and power to make metres if NSW are pinned in their own 20 metres. He’s a genuine game-breaker and you have to find a spot for him in the side.
Maloney has not hit the ground running at the Sharks, but despite playing well below par has two try assists and a try in an attack that is yet to click. Over the next month I expect the star five-eighth to really stamp his authority on the NRL. His kicking game will be key, as could be his brilliant percentage off the tee.
7. Aidan Sezer
I was surprised Sezer was overlooked last season either (or both) Hodkinson and Pearce but this year surely they cannot make the same mistake again. He has been the star of his two games in the nation’s capital and has the kind of kicking game that can win a series. Daley has said Hodkinson and Pearce will likely be there again, however if NSW want to win a series, Sezer may be the man.
8. Aaron Woods
The Tiger’s big man is amongst the first players picked for state and country, and deservingly so. Woods makes big metres and tackles and can pop an offload, and with Tedesco and Maloney sniffing around, that could be a key aspect to toppling QLD. Woods if a future Origin captain.
Ennis is probably the form NSW eligible hooker across the first month. I expect Nathan Peats to really come into contention if he continues to play the way he did prior to his injury. I’d be looking to move on from Farah, and I don’t believe the likes of Rein or Damien Cook are at a level to challenge Ennis or Peats. For mine if Peats if fit, time to change the guard, if not, Ennis will certainly not let anyone down. He’s been immense for the Sharks for a season and a month now.
10. James Tamou
The Cowboys, and NSW, are a far more dangerous side when James Tamou is firing, and he has continued where he left off in 2015 across the opening five rounds. Is a near certainty in any side in the world and is really an automatic selection here.
11. Tyson Frizell
The former Welsh international is available for selection for NSW, and I for one would be taking advantage of that fact. Frizell is one of the form forwards of the competition and has one of the best offloads in the business. He breaks tackles with ease and seems to bend the advantage line on every run.
12. Wade Graham
Wade Graham has long been considered an Origin level player, and 2016 is the year he makes that step up. He can play 80 minutes and will give you as much in the 79th minute as he would in the first. If the halves are well marked, Wade can kick at a level most back rowers cannot match.
13. Paul Gallen
I actually considered leaving Gallen out, but when it comes to Origin, the NSW skipper has been the most consistent big game performer for many years now. I wouldn’t be looking to rely on him to play 80 minutes like in years gone by, but Gallen needs to be there for the initial battle up the middle, and the final 20 minutes. He tends not to overplay his hand at Origin level and tucks the ball under and looks for metres, which is what he is best at.
14. Trent Merrin
Merrin can play at prop, lock or second row which makes him impossible to overlook. Has plenty of experience at this level and is capable of playing big minutes once coming on. Not a lot else needs explaining, Merrin is a key player if NSW are to get on top off the experienced QLD pack.
15. Paul Vaughan
Vaughan won’t get the plaudits of the likes of Fifita, Woods and Tamou, but he deserves a chance to come off the bench on the Origin stage after his blistering form in 2016. I’d argue he is the best bench forward in the competition right now and offers such a boost off the pine that he cannot be overlooked. It’s strange to pick a bench specialist but that is exactly the role he will be fulfilling.
16. Ryan James
Another who can play in either the front or back row, James is having a tremendous season and has to be there come Origin time. His aggression and ability to bust the line put him above the likes of Jackson and Bird right now. Is capable of giving away a penalty or two, but his overall games more than makes up for it.
17. Blake Austin
Talk within Origin circles is that NSW will be looking for a utility player to come off the bench and Austin is the perfect player to fill that role. He can play in the halves, at fullback, in the number nine or in the back row. The only reason I went Maloney over Austin is I believe they’re the best two options at six, and Austin has far greater utility value off the bench. He must be there somewhere.