NRL great PAUL GALLEN will appear on Nine’s 100% FOOTY every Monday night of the NRL season, discussing rugby league’s hottest topics alongside Phil Gould and James Bracey. Tune in tonight at 10:40 p.m. (AEST) after an exceptional round 11!
We’re less than a week away from knowing who will don the New South Wales jersey for the State of Origin series game opener, so I’ve set course for reflection and proposed the team I’d choose. for the opening match at ANZ Stadium.
1. James Tedesco 2. Brian To’o 3. Kotoni Staggs 4. Stephen Crichton 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Damien Cook 10. Payne Haas 11. Liam Martin 12. Angus Crichton 13. Isaah Yeo Bench: 14. Nicho Hynes 15. Junior Paulo 16. Jake Trbojevic 17. Cameron Murray.
There are three starters, in Kotoni Staggs, Stephen Crichton and Nicho Hynes, which is about the limit you’d want. Especially for the first game of the series, because it’s so important. We know that if you win the first game so many times, you win the series.
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It’s a brand new duo in centers, forced on coach Brad Fittler by injuries to outgoing duo Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell.
Staggs deserves his place, and I played him on the right side, he’s an absolute right centre, I don’t think you would play him on the left.
I have Stephen Crichton on the left, I know he normally plays on the right for Penrith at the moment but I think back to his first year in the competition and he was playing on the left. I thought it was his best year to be honest, and although Staggs is only a right center, it showed me that Crichton can play both sides.
Freddy is known as a fan of using club combinations where it makes sense, and there’s also Crichton’s combination with Brian To’o on the left, as well as Crichton’s partnership with Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary in the halves.
Having that combination with guys you play with every week is not the end of the world, I think you pick the best players and they will do the job, that’s why they are the best players.
But for a guy making his debut, given the situation the Blues are in with an injury, you’re looking for every advantage you can get. It might just be a 1% type thing, but at the home state level, you take whatever advantage you can find.
Ryan Papenhuyzen’s injury means Nicho Hynes gets 14th place, just ahead of Jack Wighton. Wighton has returned to good form over the past few weeks, and the battle between Hynes and Wighton could be a draw, especially if Canberra win again this week against Parramatta.
However, I went with Hynes because he was one of the buys of the season, with his performance against the Warriors a few weeks ago really standing out. There is the added benefit that it can cover any number of positions.
In fact, he can play just about any position in the baseline, and he’s tall enough that in a pinch he can also play lock.
It’s an important decision for the coaches to make, as Wighton has been there before, but I’m glad Hynes takes the place.
Good news for Freddy is that Cameron Murray appears to be back from injury much sooner than expected, and as long as he comes out unscathed this weekend, he’s back in the 17.
Two guys who came close but ultimately missed out are Daniel Saifiti and Tyson Frizell, and they’re really just victims of Newcastle’s very ordinary form so far this season.
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Individually they didn’t excel, had they come out on top for the Knights that might have been a different story, but you just can’t pick them based on what we’ve seen over the first 11 rounds.
They are almost victims of circumstance, they don’t necessarily play badly, but when your team is bad and you don’t stand out, it’s hard to justify their choice. If you look at the rest of the team, they either come from teams that are doing well, or in the case of someone like Josh Addo-Carr, they stand out in a struggling team.
Souths’ Keaon Koloamatangi was another I considered for the bench, but ultimately there are only a limited number of spots available. But he’s close and could come into the calculations later in the series, especially if there are injuries.
I don’t know what game plan Freddy had in mind, but obviously the loss of Trbojevic, Mitchell and Papenhuyzen means a bit of a rethink.
It will mean a change in the structure of the team, but look, we are talking about elite players here, they should be able to handle this.
If you’re going to lose players of that caliber, it’s probably easier to lose them now, rather than a week away from the opener. Freddy had plenty of time to figure out that they won’t be there.
He will have had different combinations in mind for the past few weeks, it’s going to be a different team this year, just because of those injuries, but that’s part and parcel of rugby league.
You have to deal with it and put it behind you, which I’m sure they will.
It will be a fascinating series, with youngsters who could come from the Queensland side, like Selwyn Cobbo and Reece Walsh.
New South Wales have won three of the last four series, but the momentum doesn’t carry over much from series to series, to be honest. Every year is very different, this year even more so with New South Wales injuries and the potential debut of some future Queensland stars.
State of Origin releases something special every year… 2022 will be no different.
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