If the NSW Blues are going to wrestle back the interstate shield it's largely going to come off of the halves pairing.

We all remember the Thurston/Cronk halves partnership that bodied the Blues for many years. With the greatest of respects to those who represented NSW, we never had a halves pairing that could consistently hang with the Maroons legends.

For many years the Blues picked Mitchell Pearce and a partner. Whether it was a young playmaker, the 'next Andrew Johns' or a lock-forward playing five-eighth, they just couldn't find and candidate to form a successful partnership.

The only time the Blues managed to win a series during the QLD dominance was by picking the in-form halves partnership of Hodkinson and Reynolds. Thurston was also injured throughout the series and broke up the unbeatable partnership.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 12: (L-R) Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith of the Maroons pose with the State of Origin Trophy and celebrate winning the series game three of the State Of Origin series between the Queensland Maroons and the New South Wales Blues at Suncorp Stadium on July 12, 2017 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

As important as the forwards are, the game almost always comes down to the halves. A moment of brilliance, a well-placed kick, a long range field-goal.

2021 won't be any different.

The Blues have their halfback. Nathan Cleary is the best halfback in the game right now by quite a margin. He's pushing Tedesco as the best player in the game right now.

Fitness allowing, he'll be there 100%. There is no other option at seven.

The big question though is who will partner Cleary. There are multiple options you could offer, however I believe there are only three serious contenders right now.

Below I look at the three main options and name the player I would have lining up in the Six come Game 1.

Cody Walker

The incumbent. Cody Walker is going to be hard to displace given his brilliant form in 2021. Although currently filling in at fullback through necessity, his stats have been incredible.

Six tries, eight try assists and seven line-break assists. Again, these numbers are skewed due to him having to play at the back where he doesn't get his hands on the ball as much as possible.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MAY 27: Cody Walker speaks to the media during a New South Wales Blues State of Origin media opportunity at North Bondi Surf Club on May 27, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

The big thing counting against him is he was unable to deliver a series victory in 2020 against a subpar QLD side. That feels disrespectful to say but the Blues started every game in that series as ridiculously short-priced favourites.

Walker has four Origin games to his name as well as a host of finals. He has plenty of experience and won't be overawed. He's in great form and was far from the worst player in last year's series.

His ability to play multiple positions also offers up a potential utility role. I'm not the biggest fan of picking utilities for the sake of it and I'd rather a clever forward in the Radley mold picked instead but he did play well off the bench in Game I last year.

For mine, Walker is the front runner right now to be there in some capacity.

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Jack Wighton

The Dally M medallist. A NSW regular now having played all three games last season, albeit at centre. He now has six Origin jumpers to his name.

Wighton's Raiders are the biggest strugglers, by far, of the three players under consideration. His form has suffered with only two tries, three try assists, two line-break assists and a pair of forced drop outs.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MAY 27: (L-R) Payne Haas, Nick Cotric, Cody Walker, Cameron Murray and Jack Wighton pose during a New South Wales Blues State of Origin media opportunity at North Bondi Surf Club on May 27, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

His running game is lethal and his defence is probably the best of all three. I think Canberra's form stretches way further than Wighton.

Truthfully, right now I have Wighton as the third option. That said, he is appearing in more and more predicted sides and is easily outpolling his competition.

I would not be picking him in the centres. He copped a bath by QLD's make-shift centres last year and for mine is either a half or coming off the bench, or not there at all.

Wighton will be in the squad, I have no doubt. He has to be. Whether or not he plays is up for debate.

Jarome Luai

The X-factor. Luai was selected in his first NSW squad last season but did not feature. He was a clear number three in the five-eighth pecking order but being around the squad will have been of huge benefit to the youngster.

The HUGE advantage Luai has heading into this three-way battle is the fact he plays beside Cleary week-in, week-out. He trains beside him every day and he's formed a combination with Cleary that has lost one game in over a year.

Luai is in ridiculous form right now. For the opening three weeks he was the dominant half. 12 try assists, 13 line-break assists, nine forced drop outs and a try show his abilities with the ball.

Embed from Getty ImagesLuai doesn't have the big body of Wighton, which may count against him in the Origin arena, but his partnership with Cleary is so successful at the club level that I can't see him being any kind of trouble.

When it comes to Origin, I believe you need to pick on form and for combinations. Luai has the form over both the aforementioned players and he 100% has the combination.

For mine Luai makes his debut in Origin I and partners Cleary. You can name Walker on the bench as an insurance policy incase of injury but I would hand Jarome the keys and let him go for it.

Let us know below who you believe will partner the Dally M favourite Cleary come Game One.

1 COMMENT

  1. 1. Teddy
    2. To’o
    3. Mitchell
    4. T Turbo
    5. Addo-Carr
    6. Luai
    7. Cleary
    8. Saifiti
    9. Cook
    10. Haas
    11. Frizzell
    12. Crichton
    13. J Turbo

    14. Radley
    15. Paulo
    16. Yeo
    17. Murray

    18. Pappy

    4 forwards on the bench. Radley covers hooker, Crichton can cover centre if injury.

    Brain To’o is criminally being over looked. 5th Line breaks, 1st post contact metres, 1st tackle breaks, 2nd runs, 1st metres and 10th kick return metres. That’s impressive.

    No Pappy on the bench for game 1 just cause I don’t see where he would come on. If Teddys playing well running off Cook, would Pappy make it off the bench? Would you throw him in at centre if there’s an injury? He’s never played there. Can’t sit him on the wood for 80 minutes and only have three subs.

    NSW need to pick Luai and not let the media get to him. He’s cool, calm and collected. Partners Cleary excellently with his running game. Instead of having Kikau outside him will have Frizzell who’s an elite defender. Has his mate To’o by his side also. None of this Wighton or Walker non sense. Wighton has a stacked team and the Raiders suck this year. Walker has been great but just not as good as Luai

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