Following the Blues’ drought-breaking Origin series win in 2014, I could not believe that Laurie Daley was about the change a winning halves combination.
A successful club halves combination at that.
Reynolds and Hodkinson got the job done against arguably the greatest QLD side we’ve ever seen. Their form at club level in 2015 was fair and they deserved a chance to defend the crown they had huge hands in winning the year prior.
Fast forward to 2019 and we face a similar situation, yet my stance is very different.
There is no chance in the world that Brad Fittler can name James Maloney and Nathan Cleary as New South Wales Origin halves come game one … not if he wants a shot at retaining the shield anyways.
Straight off the bat, I want to admit that I am big fans of both players. James Maloney was the Sharks’ best player in the finals series that took us to a Grand Final victory in 2016. His boot literally secured our first ever premiership. I’ll never forget that.
I still believe Nathan Cleary is destined for 20 Origin games and has a monster future ahead of him.
That said, neither player has earned the right in 2019 to feel secure in first grade let alone secure in their Origin jumper.
Again, nothing against either player, but the only reason the Panthers aren’t propping up the competition right now is due to points differential. That’s not good enough for Origin quality halves.
To place full blame on the halves for Penrith’s woes would be too simple and quite frankly unfair, but halves take the credit in successful sides and must take the heat in awful sides.
Right now, the Panthers are an awful side.
Meanwhile, you have two eligible halves absolutely playing the house down in Cody Walker and Luke Keary.
Adam Reynolds is kicking teams into submission. Chad Townsend is in career best form and is firmly in the discussion.
I’d argue that Nathan Cleary is not in the top 10 halves in 2019. Maloney the top 12 five-eighths.
Their efforts in last year’s Origin series can NEVER be forgotten. That tackle by Cleary, Maloney’s kicking game and those rocket passes that lead to Latrell terrorising Will Chambers.
Their 2019 form though has been sub-par. Maloney’s miss tackle count is eye-watering, and although that stat can be hugely misleading, he’ll be a huge target come Origin One if selected. Boyd Cordner is a wonderful player but talk about pressure having to tackle for two.
In my predicted team, I said I expected Maloney to be picked. I don’t believe that to be so any more, however, I would not be shocked to see one of the Panthers’ halves picked. I’d go Maloney’s experience if you HAVE to pick one of the two incumbent halves. Right now I wouldn’t even go down that path.
For me, Keary is there. No doubt. Injury-aside, he’s the best half NSW has right now. Whether he plays six or seven will be dictated by who is picked to partner him.
His partner? One of the current Souths halves.
I’d go Reynolds with Keary at six, but Cody Walker’s form is hard to ignore. He could play six, with Keary shifting to seven, but they’re just too similar for mine.
Townsend is a shout on the back of some incredible form. Some will laugh at his name being mentioned but he’s lead a hugely under manned Sharks outfit to some crazy wins. His performance against Melbourne was something to behold.
Let’s not forget he’s a premiership winner and schooled Cooper Cronk on the biggest stage in club football.
Keary though, the current Kangaroos’ number seven, should be the first half picked, in his favoured position, at six.
Slot Reynolds or Townsend (Reynolds due to his kicking game and experience) in at seven. Run Cody off the bench if you need to. I wouldn’t, but you couldn’t begrudge him a spot if chosen.
Unless Penrith put 60 on the Warriors this weekend I’d put a line through both Penrith halves. Cleary especially.
As long as they don’t go back to Mitchell Pearce …
Centre of attention: Who will it be?
James Roberts is out of contention for Origin One after being dropped to reserve grade.
Rumours indicate that the current Blues speedster has fallen out with Anthony Seibold due to defensive misreads and a lack of attacking flair.
So who comes in to partner Latrell Mitchell?
Unfortunately, all the lead contenders have fallen out due to injury over the past weeks and we’re left with three options.
Jesse Ramien: A hugely talented yet woefully underused centre struggling to find the ball let alone form.
Jarrod Croker: A star left centre at club level, yet someone who has never been able to shake off the tag of being defensively … not strong.
Playing someone out of position: Calls for Jack Wighton to be shifted from five-eighth are growing. Calls to play Gutherson are getting louder. Josh Morris has even mentioned he’d come out of retirement if called upon.
SURELY this is Jarrod Croker’s time. A player who has been so close to selection for as long as I can remember, surely this is his time.
Do they go back to Michael Jennings or Josh Morris? Surely it’s time to move forward, no back.
Croker is more than capable and is playing well. Plus I’d love to see a sky blue headgear.