The NSW team I would select for the first State of Origin would include six Dragons players in the starting line-up as well as a nucleus of players from the last series.
The Dragons have been the best team in the competition for the past two years, and arguably for two-and-a-half years, so I would include winger Brett Morris, centre Mark Gasnier, five-eighth Jamie Soward, prop Michael Weyman, second rowers Beau Scott and Ben Creagh.
My 17-man NSW team for Origin 1 is:
1 Jarryd Hayne
2 Brett Morris
4 Jamal idris
5 Akuila Uate
6 Jamie Soward
7 Mitchell Pearce
8 Michael Weyman
9 Michael Ennis
10 Kade Snowden
11 Beau Scott
12 Ben Creagh
13 Paul Gallen (C)
14 Aiden Tolman
15 Keith Galloway
16 Greg Bird
17 Luke Lewis
If Kurt Gidley had been fit I would have picked him at five-eighth, but he’s not, so I have gone with Soward. The game he played against Parramatta convinced me. He is an x-factor with his long kicks.
The important thing with Soward is to let him play the way he does with St George Illawarra. It is a bit unconventional and he plays a bit deeper than most, but it is worth having a go at it for Origin. What we have done in the past hasn’t worked.
With Darius Boyd likely to be chosen for Queensland, there will be seven Dragons playing Origin football. Maybe NSW needs to take a leaf out of the St George Illawarra book for how to play the Origin game.
No doubt what Wayne Bennett instilled in the Broncos and past Queensland teams has now been instilled in the Dragons … and that could be a good thing for NSW with those six players (and a possible bolter in Dean Young).
I would choose Paul Gallen as captain. You don’t have to be the organiser or the smartest on the team. You have to be a good leader. Gallen has turned into a good leader … and he is what Origin is all about.
With regards to my other selections, I am a big fan of Robbie Farah at hooker but I think he is a hell of a lot better player for the Wests Tigers than he is at rep level. He is a bit like the Kiwi team – they need a month in camp to peak.
He takes time to get his confidence with those around him … but Origin is a bit different; you need to hit the ground running. Michael Ennis will get straight into it. If he gives away penalties I would be disappointed but if he niggles a bit that could be a good thing. Queensland will definitely talk about him.
I chose Jarryd Hayne over Josh Dugan at fullback as I think Dugan is a player of the future but Hayne has the edge right now and he will be freshened up from his enforced two-week lay-off from his suspension.
Michael Weyman was an easy choice for prop. I like the way he knows his job. Like Queenland’s Petero Civoniceva and Matt Scott, he doesn’t deviate from his job. Kade Snowden is a similar style of player.
With the interchange bench of Tolman, Galloway, Bird, and Lewis there is a hell of a lot of variety. You need two front rowers on your bench in the modern game with the amount of interchanges.
Greg Bird is a real x-factor for me. He can come on and change something instantly. And Luke Lewis is a great utility.
The secret to the Blues’ success in Origin 1 is to match the aggression of Queensland. If they are aggressive you don’t miss tackles … the first man should go low, real old school stuff, around the legs.
Queensland doesn’t have an off-loading type of forward pack. They have a lot of line speed so you have to stop them at the advantage line.
The other key I believe is that although the Blues have a very good backline, they shouldn’t rely on it. In the past because the backline has been so good they have gone there too early. Let the big fellas do the job and the backline capitalise on it.
I know what Ricky Stuart said about being happy to win one game this year, but I seriously believe NSW can win the series. History will show that some of the games NSW have lost in recent years have been so close; there hasn’t been much in it.
Queensland may go into game 1 a little over-confident … and the Blues need to go into it thinking how good it would feel to be the team to bring the title back to NSW. When you are not expected to win, the victory is that bit sweeter.