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New South Wales State of Origin selectors will choose between Michael Jennings, Chris Lawrence and Josh Morris to fill the two vacant centre spots this year but with all three preferring to play on the left they face one big dilemma: who will mark up against Greg Inglis?
The South Sydney star’s scintillating performance at fullback last Sunday has served as a timely reminder to Blues selectors and coach Ricky Stuart that they will again face a daunting task in trying to end Queensland’s six-year dominance of Origin when they face off in Game One on May 23.
And while injuries and form have created plenty of interest around the fullback and playmaking options, it is right centre where the Blues may find themselves having to plug a gap following the retirement of stalwart Mark Gasnier and Jamie Lyon’s exit from the representative arena.
Stuart was reluctant to speculate on who might play on the right with seven rounds still remaining until the squad for Game One is picked but NRL.com has been told that selectors have already narrowed the field to three, with either Jennings or Lawrence likely to be switched to the right-hand side.
Morris’ scintillating form for the Bulldogs over the opening rounds has him poised for an Origin recall – although he is certain to play on the left side if picked. That would also likely see him link with brother Brett in a Blues jumper for the first time after Josh represented his state in two games in 2009 and Brett debuted for NSW the following year.
It is believed that selectors are reluctant to try Beau Scott in the centres again while Jamal Idris continues to struggle with injury and will need to prove himself a viable option over the coming months to come into calculations.
Asked about the Inglis dilemma, Stuart told NRL.com: “We’ve got some concerns in a few areas but at the end of the day both centres will be up against two very good players in Inglis and [Justin] Hodges. There is still a lot of football to be played before then so it is something we’ll look at closely in the meantime.”
Selectors are taking some solace in the fact that both Lawrence and Jennings have spent time on the right but the problem is that neither has excelled on that side of the field like they have on the left. Jennings in particular struggled when moved to the right for Penrith early last season.
Former NSW Origin centre Ryan Girdler said centre play was a specialist task and that it wasn’t simply a case of moving a player across the field and expecting him to perform at an identical level.
“Most guys that play in the centres carry the ball in a certain arm and they have a fend towards the inside so that with the cover coming across it’s another way of pushing away as well as drawing the winger in and getting the ball to their winger in space,” Girdler said.
“In attack and defence it can make quite a difference. In defence you’re used to working one way and you usually have a dominant shoulder as well.
“It wasn’t something I liked doing. I was a predominantly left-side centre… I didn’t feel that comfortable on the right-hand side. But some guys don’t have those problems.
“They’re definitely going to have to go with a guy that feels comfortable there,” he urged. “If they pick a guy that prefers left side and try and push him to the right – it’s almost like picking a guy out of position.”
Although he agreed that picking someone to play on the right this year remained a huge dilemma, Girdler said that the Blues should forget about trying to contain Queensland’s brilliant backline in 2012 and fight fire with fire.
“They have tried that (containing Queensland) before and it hasn’t worked,” he said. “You look at a guy like Jennings who is in good form this year, he is a definite threat.
“I remember when he was marking up against Justin Hodges a few years ago playing in his first series, Hodges was quite concerned about the pace and the movement he [Jennings] can create. It made Hodges concentrate on Jennings in defence rather than just thinking about what he was going to do when he got the ball.”
Should Josh Morris win the race for the left centre spot it would complete a remarkable turnaround for the 25-year-old who was dumped to NSW Cup at the Bulldogs a little under 12 months ago. And a recall would likely see him link with brother Brett on the left side of the football field for the first time since Josh left St George Illawarra for the Bulldogs at the end of the 2008 season.