Although the Origin series is still over a month away, coverage will be dominated by speculation over who will represent their state, and who will be overlooked.
Opinions seem greatly divided, across both states for the first time in many years, over who should be chosen.
The likes of James Tedesco, Boyd Cordner, Wade Graham, Tyson Frizell, and James Maloney seem to have almost universal support south of the tweed, but there seems to be plenty of decisions left to make elsewhere.
In Queensland, the nucleus of the side picks itself, although there will be a need for a few tough decisions to be made for those in Maroon also.
Despite plenty of talk yet to be had over the fate of the centre positions, as well as in the number nine jersey, and also the makeup of the bench for the Blues, perhaps the biggest decision facing selectors is just who to partner in the halves with James Maloney.
The expected names seem to once again be at the forefront of everybody’s minds. Mitchell Pearce looks destined to once again join the Origin fray despite countless opportunities without success. Adam Reynolds provides arguably the biggest competition for the Roosters number seven.
Matt Moylan and Jack Bird have also been names thrown up to fill a running five-eighth role, moving Maloney to halfback. Canberra’s live-wire halves are also in the mix.
Even the names of Origin-hold out Luke Keary and Panther rookie Nathan Cleary have been offered up as suggestions to solve the troublesome selection dilemma.
Incredibly though, one player whose name is yet to be even mentioned in talks is that of Sharks number seven Chad Townsend.
Last week I explained that I expect Mitch Pearce is leading the selection race in the mind of Laurie Daley, unfortunately for long-suffering Blues fans the only man whose opinion really matters, while I would pick Souths halfback, Adam Reynolds.
That said, I am at a complete loss as to a possible reason for the exclusion of Townsend’s name in discussions, at least in public.
The very ring on Townsend’s finger should see his name thrust into the headlines. For those who have missed the reference, the ring in question proudly displays the words ‘2016 Premiers’.
The Sharks halfback had a brilliant 2016 season, and played a huge role in his side finishing third following the regular rounds, and then emerging Grand Final victors.
The way in which he reacted after being dragged off the field following a below-par performance against the Raiders in the first round of last year’s finals series has become the stuff of legend.
Benched for the final stanza in the nation’s capital despite an amazing regular season, Townsend could very well have lost belief in himself and started planning his 2017 season. Instead, he took it on the chin then helped masterclass the defeat of the Thurston-led Cowboys in his club’s very next fixture.
He then massively outplayed Thurston’s rep halves partner Cooper Cronk on the grandest stage on the biggest day of both his life and his club’s history.
Outplaying the two best halves in modern rugby league across the space of a fortnight casts Chad into rare territory. Of course, there are many other factors at play here, but once again, the 2016 ring on his finger settles plenty of arguments.
Then there is, of course, the biggest advantage Townsend presents over each and every potential halves rival, his brilliant club combo with James Maloney.
Across 2016, and early rounds of the 2017 season, Maloney and Townsend have shared arguably the game’s best halves partnership. There are better halves pairings across the competition, but no two halves partners have struck up the kind of combinations of that of the Sharks number six and seven.
Just this weekend Chad set up a try for Maloney with the boot, while both combined on many occasions to bend, and sometimes destroy, the Panthers defensive line.
In last season’s finals series, Maloney and Townsend were often the players putting the other through gaps, and no Sharks fan will soon forget the Maloney bust that saw Chad run under the posts to open the floodgates against the Cowboys at Allianz Stadium last September.
Origin halves combos will always take time to gel, no matter how good the individual players being picked. Picking both Sharks halves would end this problem and provide a huge advantage straight away.
Add to that the fact that the Origin side is expected to include club mates Fifita, Graham, and possibly Bird, and Laurie Daley’s men are provided with a range of ready-made club combos ready to exploit.
As far as form goes, Townsend is streaks ahead of both Pearce and Reynolds. The Sharks are on a run of four-straight victories, and Townsend has been at the front and centre of each of those wins.
That’s without mentioning the fact that he outplayed the far more lauded James Maloney for a big stretch of the 2016 Premiership winning season.
Plus he has, without a doubt, the greatest hair across all grades of rugby league.
Of course, that last statement was put forward with a degree of humour. However less humorous would be turning to the selection of Mitchell Pearce for the 47th time.