Up Front: The Origin Puzzles
It’s that time of year when talk turns to State of Origin and we all start prophesising as to who may or may not make the cut when the Queensland and NSW teams are named in a few weeks’ time.
But, as usual, there are a few key positional questions that are as intriguing as they are crucial. For my boys the Maroons, top of the tree is the possibility that Billy Slater could be shunted to the wing to accommodate Greg Inglis at the back – a prospect that would have been considered absurd for the best part of a decade.
While some believe that Inglis has done enough for Souths this year to be named at fullback for Queensland in Game One, I don’t think Slater has done enough to be dropped.
No doubt the mouth waters at the prospect of seeing Greg Inglis on the fly in that No.1 jersey just to see what damage he causes NSW but what has Billy Slater done wrong to lose his spot? Greg would be superb at the back but the great thing for Queensland is that he can cause just as much damage playing in the centres. Let’s face it: he certainly hasn’t struggled playing in the centres in the past.
It’s a luxurious position for Queensland to be in but Slater does an amazing job at the back himself and has done for a long time. There is a combination there as well that has been proven over a number of years so I see no reason for change.
I guess the other selection dilemma for Mal Meninga is getting the balance right in the forward pack and making sure the interchange is right. David Shillington is back for Canberra this week which is a bonus in the front row but the back row will be interesting. Ben Te’o and Matt Gillett look like fighting it out for a spot and can Dave Taylor do enough to earn a recall to the side in the next few weeks? These are all some interesting questions that Mal needs to answer.
But for the most part the Maroons are spoiled for riches while NSW has some genuine decisions to make. The biggest one for them is who plays five-eighth and I can’t resist the form of James Maloney. He hasn’t put a foot wrong in the lead-up to Game One and he has been a huge part of the Roosters’ success this season.
The main thing I like about Maloney is his toughness and I think that makes him perfectly suited to State of Origin football. He is a robust runner of the ball, likes to take on the line and doesn’t shirk his responsibilities defensively either.
Todd Carney is a great player and was solid last year but he has had an interrupted start to the season with injury while Maloney and Mitchell Pearce have a ready-made combination that is red-hot at the moment. It could be a huge plus for the Blues to go into Game One with two guys that have been playing so well together all season.
In the forwards, Aaron Woods’ name has been bandied about for a few years now and deservedly so. He has a huge work rate which is vital in an Origin contest and although Aiden Tolman is also a chance of making his debut, Woods’ size and mobility for a big man might get him a well-deserved start.
The other problem spot for the Blues is the wing, with Brett Morris suffering a knee injury on Monday night and Akuila Uate, Jarryd Hayne and Nathan Merritt all fighting it out for selection.
Personally, I’d like to see Uate and Merritt get the nod.
As a player, I always hated defending against Akuila because the way he runs the ball back into the defensive line causes so much havoc. Sure, he has a question mark under the high ball and positionally in defence but as a ball runner he can be devastating. He guarantees the Blues a good start to the set every time he brings the ball back.
Nathan Merritt deserves to be rewarded for his remarkable try-scoring feats over such a long period of time. He has also been brilliant for the Rabbitohs this year and wouldn’t let anyone down. More importantly, he has been strong in defence and with Greg Inglis and Justin Hodges in the centres you need someone who is going to make good decisions in defence.
One thing I do know is that this series is going to be mighty close. Last year Queensland escaped with a one-point victory in Game Three and the Blues have the advantage of two home games in 2013. No doubt they will lift given the crowd support they got last year. I’ve never witnessed that feeling at ANZ Stadium before. It was as intense as anything I’ve experienced at Suncorp and a really tough night to play football. If they can create that atmosphere again it will be a huge mountain for Queensland to climb.
It’s going to be a cracker of a series!