Craig Bellamy will look to New Zealand Test representative Kevin Proctor to take his game to an even higher level in the absence of the Storm’s Origin stars over the coming weeks. Credit: Brett Crockford. Copyright: NRL Photos.
The time of year is almost upon us when we shift focus from the NRL to the biggest rivalry in the game in State of Origin - but it’s also a crucial time of year for NRL clubs, as they look at processes and contingency plans to keep getting valuable competition points during the busy Origin period.
With three Origin games wedged in between seven rounds of club footy, teams are already putting plans in to place to cover for the departure of their rep footy stars and building on ways in which they can bring players into their teams without having too much disruption to their usual processes.
This week I’ve decided to have a look at teams who are most affected by ‘Originitis’ and who they can look at lifting during the next few weeks while their stars are away.
Immediately when you think State of Origin absentees you think of the Broncos, with the predominantly Queensland-based players club usually making up a fair portion of their Origin team. Already this year we’ve seen Corey Parker and Matt Gillett play for Australia in the Test match, while only injury kept Sam Thaiday out of the team which defeated the Kiwis. Throw in Justin Hodges and already the Broncos have four top-line players missing for their match against the Tigers in Round 11.
Although this will be the only pre-Origin miss for their stars, the Broncos will have to contend with three matches where they have players backing up, including two tough road trips against the Warriors and Panthers.
Cover for four key positions can be difficult to manage, but the Broncos do have some good depth in their ranks, with the likes of Corey Oates, Jake Granville and the experienced Ben Hannant. Traditionally it’s a tough period for them and coach Anthony Griffin will need to try to squeeze some valuable wins in this tough time.
Queensland’s other most affected club is the Melbourne Storm, with the big three in Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater all unavailable for coach Craig Bellamy for the road trip against the Titans in Round 15, while the battle-hardened trio will have to back up for the Cowboys, Eels and Bulldogs.
Bellamy has given his stars a rest after Origin matches in the past, but with the team not sitting as high as they usually are on the ladder, it will be interesting to see if they back up from all three matches this year.
It’s up to players like Ryan Hinchcliffe, Kevin Proctor and Jesse Bromwich to stand up during these times, because there is also the chance they will be missing Blues back-rower Ryan Hoffman at some time as well during this period.
The absence of a potential four stars will give the likes of Ben Hampton (when he returns from suspension) and Joel Romelo the chance to steer the Storm around the park, while boom rookie Kurt Mann will probably get more game time after his memorable match-winning try debut against the Sea Eagles.
For the Blues, it seems as if the Roosters will once again be most affected by missing their stars, with Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney likely omissions during Origin, while Boyd Cordner will be absent from their back row.
Out of all the teams missing multiple Origin stars the Roosters have the most depth, with Daniel Mortimer able to slot in at halfback, while Sonny Bill Williams has been name at five-eighth this week, which could be a dress rehearsal for Trent Robinson during Origin.
Once again it's going to be a fascinating period of club footy as we see which teams better handle the adversity which comes with losing players to representative footy - and, equally as important, which teams unaffected by Origin can take advantage of weakened line-ups.
Perhaps the pressure will be more on those teams who are expected to beat the clubs missing their superstars.