NSW Origin great Peter Sterling reveals the team he would pick for the Blues for State of Origin I.
Tune in to NRL.com at 5pm Sunday for the live team announcement.
Statistics can be misleading. They can often be made to be what you want them to be.
However when it comes to State-of-Origin, the one factor that can't be denied is how advantageous it is to the state that is successful in the opening game.
From the 30 best-of-three series played so far, the team that has won the first encounter has gone on to win the series on 22 occasions.
That tells us that winning the opening rubber has converted into a 73% chance of attaining ultimate success.
After six consecutive campaign defeats, the pressure for NSW to get the mix right from the opening whistle is even more profound. While coach Ricky Stuart needs no help in forming his squad, just for the heck of it, this is the way I would be going.
Fullback – Brett Stewart
From a quality field the best option is Stewart, who has done enough since coming back from a niggling injury to hold out Josh Dugan, Anthony Minichiello and Jarryd Hayne. Despite missing two matches the Manly custodian was superb in his comeback game against the Bulldogs and was comfortably the best on ground in a finals-like encounter. I was convinced that he was back to his brilliant best with two bursts of acceleration in between defenders (one leading to a try) that showed that he is moving as freely as ever. He backed this effort up with a solid performance against the Raiders on Sunday that showcased the defensive side of his game. This area is sometimes overlooked, and I believe of the main contenders he does exhibit the safest last line.
Wing – Akuila Uate
The flying Fijian Akuila Uate has been one of a small number of certainties to be in the NSW side and will compete in his second series on the right wing. He is absolutely suited to this level of football, being one of the strongest and most powerful runners of the ball in the game. With kick returns and the early carrying of the ball in an attacking set absolutely crucial in Origin, Uate shapes as one of the Blues' most important and potent weapons. His decision-making in defence has also improved markedly with more time in the NRL, as has his ability under the high ball. The more carries he has in the series the greater the chance of Blues' success.
Centre – Chris Lawrence
He may have made a slow start to the season by his standards, but it should not be enough to overlook Chris Lawrence playing inside Uate on the right side. Lawrence was the starting centre for the Kangaroos in last year's Four Nations triumph in the absence of Justin Hodges, and has been his usual solid self this season in a disappointing Tigers line-up. He has actually been pushed into the back row on occasions and on Saturday was the run-on five-eighth. He is capable of handling any of those positions when necessary but at this stage of his career he is still best suited in the centres. His defensive strength will be needed against the power of Greg Inglis.
Centre – Josh Morris
The fact that Michael Jennings has been unable to finish his last two matches casts too much doubt over his fitness and allows a recall for the very much in-form Josh Morris. After an up-and-down 2011 the 'Dogs centre has been in career-best touch, with two hat-tricks contributing to his eight tries from nine matches. We saw his great pace in his second try against the Eels on Friday when he clearly outsprinted Chris Sandow in chasing down an attacking kick. He has previous experience at Origin back in '09, and has also combined with brother Brett at Test level.
Wing – Brett Morris
Despite playing the bulk of the season at fullback, Brett Morris moves seamlessly back on to the left wing where he has made his name. His form at the back for the Dragons has been faultless and there is no reason to think he would have any trouble transferring that to a position that he knows even better. He would have been involved in all three matches last year if not for missing game two through injury, and continues to be one of the best finishers in the competition. In Uate and Morris, NSW boast superb pace and athleticism out wide.
Five-eighth – Todd Carney
I had Jarrod Mullen pencilled in until the sublime performance from Todd Carney on Monday night. It's still a photo finish because I love a left foot/right foot kicking combination, so the onus is on Carney to work out a kicking system with Mitchell Pearce to nullify Billy Slater. His passing and kicking game looks very confident, with the manner in which he scored his try on Monday a return to the Dally M days of 2010.
Halfback – Mitchell Pearce
It is imperative that your half is full of confidence at this stage of the season and Mitchell Pearce is saying the right things and backing that up on the field. With five straight Origins under his belt Pearce is primed to justify the faith that has been shown in him. His biggest asset is his ability to play direct and to the defensive line, and he is one of only a handful of number sevens capable of doing so. Putting Mitch Aubusson over for the Roosters' second try on the weekend was a perfect illustration. He is a tough kid who puts his body on the line in defence.
Lock – Greg Bird
Ricky Stuart said over the weekend that part of the reason he went with Greg Bird last year was because he was an incumbent. The Titans' poor run this season hasn't helped his cause but he is in better individual form than he was at this time when selected last year. He may be diminutive in comparison to other forwards but he is uncompromising and skilful, which is a nice combination. He is definitely a player to be followed as he has an uncanny ability to attract defenders but still manufacture an offload.
Second-row – Luke Lewis
He is struggling with some on-going, niggling injuries but Luke Lewis is one player I have no qualms picking under such circumstances. I also see him as a starting player as I think he exerts influence over the full 80 minutes and is somewhat wasted coming off the bench. At the moment he is being used wider than usual by the Panthers but his angled runs tend to be more effective closer on the edges.
Second-row – Ben Creagh
Creagh is still to impose himself on Origin but his raw-boned hardness is hard to leave out. There are few back-rowers that are physically as strong with his speed and athletic prowess. Defensively he is a brick wall and his ability to stop opposing forwards in their tracks without being able to put their nose through the line for a quick play-the-ball is a real plus. He was pushed up into the front-row at times last series and handled it well, and that option may again be something coach Stuart keeps in mind.
Front-row – Michael Weyman
With the opening 20 minutes invariably crucial, there are few props that can get a side going forward more effectively than Weyman. The big man has the type of compact build that is hard to put a shot on, and combined with good leg speed he is able to quickly gather momentum. There are also potentially quick play-the-balls available when he dents the line, and few things are more valuable in the opening exchanges of an Origin game. Weyman is far from one-dimensional and when selective with his offloads he's capable of promoting effective second phase, just like he did in putting Ben Creagh in for the match-winner on Anzac Day.
Hooker – Robbie Farah
The toughest selection in my team, as it really was a toss of the coin between Robbie Farah and Michael Ennis. Farah's performance in City-Country and being the difference between success and defeat for the Tigers against the Gold Coast on the weekend were enough to have him come up heads. The difficulty for Farah is that what he does for the Tigers is not easy to reproduce in Origin as the faster pace makes it very difficult for his state teammates to all be on the same page. He will need to curb some natural instincts in order to play within the confines of the team performance. He must also play straight, as going across-field too often looking for runners will be playing into the hands of the Queenslanders.
Front-row – Paul Gallen (c)
Paul Gallen as starting prop this year again and captain. Enough said.
Interchange – Anthony Watmough, Glenn Stewart, James Tamou, Ryan Hinchcliffe
In the absence of Kurt Gidley the Storm's Hinchcliffe fills the utility player void beautifully and covers any number of positions, including dummy-half. Having both Bird and Lewis in the squad means there is ample versatility to cover any injury. Tamou was excellent for Australia against the Kiwis and joins the growing list of players to have played for their country before state. Stewart is all class and three games under his belt after injury will have him cherry ripe and fresh to go.
The toughest players to leave out were Jarryd Hayne and Tariq Sims. There is no doubting Hayne's explosive ability but those I've selected in the backline are simply in better form and there was also a worrying lack of urgency in his effort against Canterbury. Sims' time will come and it could easily be in this series as a result of injury or poor performance.
Peter Sterling's Origin I NSW lineup
1. Brett Stewart
2. Akuila Uate
3. Chris Lawrence
4. Josh Morris
5. Brett Morris
6. Todd Carney
7. Mitchell Pearce
8. Michael Weyman
9. Robbie Farah
10. Paul Gallen (c)
11. Luke Lewis
12. Ben Creagh
13. Greg Bird
14. Anthony Watmough
15. Glenn Stewart
16. James Tamou
17. Ryan Hinchcliffe