After a thrilling win in last year’s State of Origin series over Queensland, New South Wales are building momentum for what could be their own dynasty for years to come.
A decade of domination at the hands of their upper-state rivals seems like a distant memory for the Blues, whose win last year highlighted a positive transition for the side as they shook things up significantly under the guidance of new coach and cult figure Brad Fittler.
While for years, on paper, the Blues possessed a side that many believed could have taken care of the Maroons, it was always a lack of quality playmakers where they fell short.
But this isn’t the case this year.
Among many things, the first two rounds of the 2019 have taught us that NSW have a major selection headache on their hands relating to who will occupy the important six and seven jerseys in this year’s series.
Last year’s incumbents and Penrith duo Nathan Cleary and James Maloney haven’t done anything wrong, and if reinstated will be trusted to excel once again.
But we know what Brad Fittler is like – he’s not afraid of change. And even through two rounds of the 2019, a number of halves are presenting a case that could easily force Freddy’s hand.
Luke Keary almost single handily ripped apart the Manly Sea Eagles in a soggy affair at Brookvale on Saturday night, with Cooper Cronk sidelined by injury. The variety in his ball playing, and highly-measured playmaking ability is perfect for State of Origin football. It’s almost beyond debate – if Keary continues to pull rabbits out of a hat he will earn himself a Blues jumper in May.
The Rabbitohs have started their campaign with two massive wins against rivals the Roosters and the Dragons, and key to both of these victories have been the performances of Adam Reynolds.
If Cleary isn’t in the side, expect it to be at the expense of Adam Reynolds, whose kicking game has mesmerised fans in the opening weeks. On the rare occassion that Souths’ forward pack are under pressure, Reynolds has a unique ability to rescue his side with the boot, and given the importance of field position in the Origin arena, the diminutive halfback will be hard to leave out if he maintains his form.
Much like Reynolds, Cody Walker has started the season off just how he finished in 2018, and would offer the Blues an exciting edge if selected in the six jersey. Walker is an attacking mastermind, and has a running game which would cause Queensland all kinds of trouble. It’s something NSW haven’t enjoyed for a while, and would certainly add another dimension to the way the Blues go at Queensland’s line.
A lot would have to go right for him to earn selection, but Luke Brooks’ breakout year last year in which he earned Dally M Halfback of the Year honours ensured his name was certainly thrown in the hat for this year’s series. His Tigers have started the season in red hot form – although not entirely off the back of Brooks – but the number seven certainly hasn’t done much wrong in the clubs’ two wins over the Seas Eagles and Warriors.
And whilst many contest his time in sky blue is over, there’s no doubting Mitchell Pearce deserves to be mentioned in the NSW halves conversation again. Although he’s been tried and tested in previous series, throw any half into a Blues side facing off against Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston and see if they can win a series.
Pearce has transformed as a player since arriving at Newcastle, and has the best defensive game out of all the other options. On top of this, Pearce has become a leader, and Origin is where leadership is of most importance. It would be interesting to see what Brad Fittler could get out of a maligned Mitchell Pearce.
Whilst still two months away from Game One on the 5th June, the Blues’ prospects in the halves are getting better as the season goes on. Look out Queensland.