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Maloney bolter for NSW: Alexander

The NSW five-eighth position is wide open this year and I am going for a bolter to take on Queensland number six Johnathan Thurston: the New Zealand Warriors' James Maloney.

There is certainly some strong and in-form competition there with Maloney, Jamie Soward, Todd Carney, Jarrod Mullen and Terry Campese all fighting for the important five-eighth role.

It would seem certain Mitchell Pearce has the halfback spot secured and I think he should partner Maloney at the scrum-base for the Blues.

Maloney is as tough as they come - a real State of Origin player. He hits a hole well and has a first-rate kicking game.

My only concern is what Maloney can provide for his outside men because he is primarily a running five-eighth.

But he still has my vote after a stellar 2011 where he was a key figure in New Zealand's barnstorming run into the NRL grand final.

In my eyes, Maloney is leading the five-eighth pack at this moment in time but Cronulla's Todd Carney isn't far behind.

Carney has had a solid start to the season with his new club and will continue to improve as he becomes more accustomed to his new team-mates. The next month might see the best of him with Jeff Robson at half, which frees him up to focus on his running of the footy.

There is no doubt Carney is a natural. We saw exactly what he could achieve in 2010 before he slipped off the rails last year.

That brings me to Soward, the incumbent Blues five-eighth.

I was the Dally M Medal judge for last Saturday night's match against Manly and I gave Soward three points. His kicking was the difference between the two teams.

Both sides didn't give an inch and a depleted Manly was courageous.

It was Soward though who kept Manly having to come off their own tryline with his kicking game. I have always ridiculed theories that Soward cannot defend. He can - and he does it well.

Having said that, I still think Soward is coming in a close third.

Campese is the wild card in the pack. He missed the entire 2011 season through injury and is still slowly but surely working himself back into rugby league. It takes time.

Campese needed a big game to restore his confidence and that arrived on Monday night against the Wests Tigers at Campbelltown.

It was a performance which showed Campese still has what it takes to play at State of Origin level.

If Campese can string together another month of robust footy, then I wouldn't discard him.

Mullen is probably behind the others but I thought he was outstanding for Newcastle against Canterbury on Sunday.

It appears now he will play five-eighth for the Knights with Kurt Gidley at halfback.

Maybe Maloney is a surprise choice but I think we need to try something different. Let's not forget we have lost six successive series and we need a player that doesn't carry the mental baggage of being belted by Queensland.

Maybe we need to look outside the square for this series. Maloney is hard and fiercely competitive. The Roosters have certainly bought a quality player from next season.

He is the man to confront Thurston in my opinion. And I have every confidence Maloney would get the job done.

*****

I thought Canberra coach David Furner supplied the perfect game plan to topple the Wests Tigers on Monday night. It was the best sucker punch of the season.

All week, critics and punters spoke about the Tigers pack - how they needed more size by buying Willie Mason, how big Keith Galloway was absent through injury and how the Tigers had two rookie props.

Even Paul Gallen on NRL on Fox revealed how clubs reckon they can beat Wests Tigers through the middle.

So, come Monday evening, everyone was waiting for Furner to push his big men right through the middle. But no, Furner took the exact opposite tact.

The Raiders went wide at every opportunity. I think it even surprised the Tigers. Canberra continually got the ball to the edges against a compressed Tigers defence who, like everyone else, thought the danger was up the middle. They made 13 clean line breaks (the most of any team in a game this season) and ran the Tigers ragged.

You don't often see a game plan executed so beautifully.

******

Talking of surprises, I’m tipping Parramatta to upset Manly on Saturday night at Parramatta Stadium.

I know the Eels are 0-4 and their performances over the last couple of rounds have been excruciating.

But Jarryd Hayne is back and that will give the Eels a huge injection of confidence. They desperately need him on the field.

Not only that, I just think Parramatta will have an amazing desire to win.

They have been hammered all week in the media and all NRL players have pride in their performances. Steve Kearney has been bagged for the past month - who would want to be a first grade coach?

I don't think Parramatta should worry too much about a game plan this Saturday. They shouldn't be concerned about anything else but effort and wanting to prove a lot of people wrong.

They are taking on Manly at a good time - the Sea Eagles are without international players Glenn Stewart, Steve Matai and Tony Williams.

Parramatta is a proud club and they need a proud performance. This is all about credibility and desire.

I think the players will deliver.

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