Former New South Wales hooker Benny Elias has warned that continued uncertainty surrounding selections for the upcoming State of Origin series are again hurting the Blues’ chances in 2011, insisting the selectors should have settled on their squad three weeks ago.
Frustrated that no decision has yet been made on any of the key positions of fullback, five-eighth, halfback or hooker, Elias has urged new Blues coach Ricky Stuart to stop wasting time and pick a squad immediately as they look to end Queensland’s record-breaking five-year winning streak.
“They don’t know who the No.7 is, they don’t know who the No.9 is… they’re umming and ahhhing about the No.1 – and this is the difference between us and them at the moment,” Elias said.
“I’m of the opinion that Ricky has to decide real quick instead of stuffing around in the papers on Sunday saying ‘he could be there, so could he’. He should be saying, ‘these are the guys we’re picking and these are the guys we’re sticking with win, lose or draw’. They should announce it to them today and let them start preparing now, not next week.
“I read somewhere that the only two certainties are Kurt Gidley and Paul Gallen. I mean, come on! There should only be two uncertainties!”
The Blues had been tipped to go with Roosters pairing Mitchell Pearce and Todd Carney in the halves this year but Carney’s off-field issues and some indifferent form from Pearce have thrown that plan into disarray.
St George Illawarra playmaker Jamie Soward is also in doubt after injuring his hamstring playing for Country Origin last Friday night.
There are also problems at fullback, where the battle for selection between Parramatta’s Jarryd Hayne and Canberra’s Josh Dugan has failed to live up to expectations during the early rounds.
And the ongoing dual between rival hookers Robbie Farah and Michael Ennis appears no closer to a resolution, with both making claims for the No.9 jersey – although consensus has Dragons’ rake Dean Young ahead of the pair.
Elias said that ongoing speculation over the make-up of the NSW squad was “messing with players’ minds” and pointed to Queensland – whose success has largely been based on stability – as an example of how to approach an Origin series.
“It’s a problem for all of the players,” he said. “I love Ricky but you’ve got him coming out on the weekend saying he’s not sure yet – well, I’m of the belief that the side should have been picked three weeks ago!
“Queensland know exactly who they’re going to pick in their side, they know that Thurston is going to be there and Billy Slater and Cameron Smith and Darren Lockyer.
“We don’t know anything and it is being played on Wednesday fortnight! Hello? What are we waiting for?
“That’s my angst with it all. Stop playing games, pick the side and stick with them for the next three games. They’ve seen enough of them now.”
Elias isn’t alone in his frustration, with former NSW halfback Steve Mortimer – who captained the Blues to their first Origin series win in 1985 – agreeing that Stuart must show faith in his players this year.
“I think we’re slowly getting our act together and we’ve got an independent coach now but we don’t need to put fear in our players that if they don’t perform they’ll be gone,” Mortimer said.
“We don’t want them looking over their shoulder – because you trip when you look over your shoulder. They need to be given some comfort and strength that they are the guys that are going to be there.
“I think Ricky has a pleasant bunch to pick from but once that’s done we should stick with them.”
Mortimer also said that it was time to bring in some fresh blood with Country Origin trio Dugan, Akuila Uate and Ryan Hinchcliffe on his radar.
“I’d have both Dugan and Hayne in the team and I don’t care who plays where,” Mortimer said.
“Jack Gibson used to say: ‘You pick your best 13 players and then figure out where to put them’ so they need both of those players.
“Uate should be a certainty and I’d have Ryan Hinchcliffe in there as well. He can play anywhere and I’d actually have both him and Kurt Gidley on the bench.”
Elias said it was time NSW selectors took the fight to Queensland after picking a largely defensive outfit in 2010.
“I wouldn’t have a defensive side, I’d have an attacking side,” he said. “We’ve got to do something out of the box and challenge them. Fight fire with fire.
“That’s my message to the NSW side – be definitive, be positive, be aggressive and be a little bit arrogant.”