Todd Carney sported an interesting new bleached short-locks look at the weekend. Copyright: Robb Cox/NRL Photos.

Monday Smelling Salts: Round 6


Origin success goes deeper than winning
It is the great blessing - and curse - of the NSW State of Origin team.

A string of match-winning efforts came from Blues prospects on the weekend, highlighting this fact: NSW has way more depth than Queensland. Only problem is, the Maroons possess the true champions.

With incumbent Blues five-eighth James Maloney struggling to assert dominance week to week, Aidan Sezer was a match-winner for the Titans, Josh Reynolds was again sensational for the Bulldogs and Jarrod Mullen made a sterling return for Newcastle. Todd Carney had a tough Sunday but is working back to form, while John Sutton is also a legitimate option.

Queensland? Two words: Johnathan Thurston. Not much beyond that, but he remains the game’s premier half.

Conjecture still surrounds Mitchell Pearce’s Blues halfback spot. Bulldogs No.7 Trent Hodkinson kicked a match-winning field goal yesterday, Adam Reynolds remains solid for the Rabbitohs, Albert Kelly has been doing freakish things for Gold Coast and Luke Brooks is a future NSW halfback, guaranteed.

Queensland? Cooper Cronk... with Daly Cherry-Evans pacing back and forth in the wings.

Manly fullback Brett Stewart returned to top gear on Sunday, the Dragons’ Blues incumbent Josh Dugan is looking sharp, Eels No.1 Jarryd Hayne has been brilliant, while James Tedesco is one for the future.

Queensland? Billy Slater, Greg Inglis as back-up, Anthony Milford to come.

NSW hooker Robbie Farah will fight to overcome an elbow injury in time for Origin I. A potential replacement will come from Michael Ennis, Kurt Gidley, Mitch Rein, Nathan Peats, Josh Reynolds, Ryan Hinchcliffe, Josh McCrone ... who knows?

Queensland? Cameron Smith is unrivalled in the game’s history and Jake Friend is a strong back-up.

NSW have more than a dozen decent options in the outside backs. Inglis, Justin Hodges, Darius Boyd and Brent Tate pick themselves for Queensland, with only Daniel Vidot really banging on the door.

Yet another selection puzzle faces the Blues this season. Yet again, the immense difficulty lies in making their team chemistry greater than the sum of Queensland’s spectacular, all-conquering parts.

Affordable Easter treats for NRL fans

Fans' conditional support
Lousy Sydney weather over the weekend (with disappointing low crowds to match) delivered a simple truth amid the emotion attached to suburban grounds: It’s not fun standing on a hill or sitting in a dilapidated grandstand eating cold chips and drinking a rained-in beer amid a relentless downpour. It’s actually much nicer sitting in a modern stand with a proper roof. Maybe even with a meal option better than the humble hot dog on soggy bun with a squeeze sauce packet.

After a sensational turnout from Wests Tigers fans at a saturated Leichhardt, a poor crowd followed at Campbelltown, a fair one at Penrith given the conditions and a low one at Brookvale. Everyone who pushed through a turnstile should get a thumbs up for braving the conditions.
It’s no wonder clubs are taking more and more games to modern stadia. As much as we love them, perhaps suburban grounds are gradually shuffling towards use in Heritage Rounds only.

The kids are alright
Ah, kids. Already this season we’ve been given an exciting glimpse into generation next, with Newcastle’s Adam Clydsdale and Canberra’s Shannon Boyd notching maiden NRL tries on the weekend - following a double on debut for Penrith’s Dallin Watene-Zelezniak the previous round. Against the Panthers on Friday, highly rated Rabbitohs speedster Kirisome Auva’a scored a terrific try on debut. Our game is brimming with rising talent.

Coach Watch
So who's going to be coach of the year: Titans head clipboard holder John Cartwright, Wests Tigers' Mick Potter or the Eels' Brad Arthur? Sure beats being sacked!

Entrenched in the Things Aren't Going To Plan camp are Cowboys boss Paul Green and Raiders mentor Ricky Stuart, with Dragons counterpart Steve Price to join them should his team continue their awful record in Melbourne tonight. New Warriors chief Andrew McFadden - welcome to the NRL. We're sure at times you'll feel like you're screaming around on rocket-propelled roller skates while blindfolded.

Origin Watch
In-form Eels hooker Peats is the smoky as a potential replacement for NSW incumbent Farah. The Blues will have to give serious consideration to recalling tough back-rower Beau Scott, rated the form forward in the NRL by Knights coach Wayne Bennett. His teammate, big centre Joseph Leilua, is also on fire. Ditto Manly fullback Brett Stewart. Down on form on Friday was Panthers winger Josh Mansour - just as Daniel Tupou’s form went to another gear for the Roosters, Jorge Taufua returned brilliantly for Manly and Newcastle’s James McManus found some spark.

One thing is clear for Queensland, on current form: Ben Barba won't be making an anticipated Origin debut this season. There was no obvious spot for the Broncos fullback anyway, with top halfback Daly Cherry-Evans having locked up the bench utility job, but Barba is nowhere near his best and has probably also fallen behind Anthony Milford on the pecking order. Greg Inglis is hitting scary form for the Rabbitohs, while Josh Papalii made a steady injury return for Canberra.

Hair Watch
So which was the biggest shocker of the weekend? Todd Carney does Draco Malfoy? Or Gavin Badger plays the love child of Josh Reynolds and Nathan Peats? (Give us your verdict from 1.30pm Tuesday during our Team List Tuesday Live chat.)