Youth Blues-print for Origin success
I'll be honest, when I sat down a couple of weeks ago and chose my hypothetical New Zealand team, Siliva Havili was not in my thinking. Ben Henry's a tremendous young talent but the poor kid had only played a handful of games across two seasons before earning a Kiwi call-up.
And Isaac John? I didn't even get to the New South Wales Cup or Intrust Super Cup team lists to check who hailed from Aotearoa.
In addition to a growing casualty ward full of key senior Kiwis, New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney was adamant that his plans to win back the Rugby League World Cup in 2017 started as of the mid-year Test two weeks ago. Somewhat odd for a man with a contract through until the end of 2015, but what if he's right?
What if Steve Kearney’s a genius? What if the players who gave such a good account of themselves against the Kangaroos do deliver a World Cup to New Zealand in 2017? What if some short-term pain delivers enormous long-term gain?
When 20-year-old Cameron Smith played his first full Origin Series in 2004 Queensland suffered a 2-1 Series defeat, a scoreline that would be repeated when 22-year-old Johnathan Thurston made his debut a year later.
Queensland's top brass recognised that these were the players who would ultimately lead them to the promised land so, after eight straight Series defeats, what if Blues coach Laurie Daley took a similar approach?
With Mitchell Pearce spending time in the company of some different men in blue and Greg Bird facing a suspension that could rule him out of the entire Series, is it time for Daley to adopt a different way of thinking?
What would a NSW team chosen for Game One 2014 – but with the ultimate aim of winning the 2016 Series – look like?
Given the quality currently throughout the NRL you can build a case for the fullback being the most influential member of the modern backline. With an ability to create or do it all himself, Hayne is the fullback NSW need to ask the most pertinent questions of the Queensland defence. With the talent to act as a second five-eighth, Hayne's five try assists and six line-break assists have freed up his Eels teammates but his positional play and desperation in defence are unheralded qualities: His eight try saves are second only to Ben Barba (12) in 2014.
Brett Morris and Jorge Taufua
There's every chance that these two will be named by Laurie Daley on the wing for NSW next week and they have the potential to own these positions for the next five years. Morris, 27, is regarded by many as the best finisher currently in the competition and his powerful dummy-half runs are even more crucial in the Origin arena. Outside of the hookers of the NRL, Morris has more dummy-half runs and has made more metres from dummy-half than any other player. Taufua, 22, missed the start of the year but in four games (five line breaks, 17 tackle breaks and five tries) has asserted himself and picked up from 2013 where he scored 20 tries.
Jack Wighton and Josh Morris
Two of the best defensive centres getting around, Wighton and Morris both possess a number of strings to their bow. Wighton's shift into five-eighth at the Raiders will further develop his kicking and passing game which has already delivered two try assists and five line-break assists in 2014 while Morris's power game is exemplified by his 19 tackle breaks and five line breaks.
If you give Josh Reynolds a taste of an Origin Series defeat, you don't think he'll be frothing at the mouth next time he gets a shot at the Maroons? Arguably the most improved player of the past two seasons, Reynolds plays over his weight in almost all facets but his tenaciousness shouldn't overshadow a very clever footballer who will stretch the defensive line until he finds its breaking point. Eleven offloads, nine try assists and nine line-break assists for the Bulldogs in 2014 is testament to that attacking threat.
If Mitchell Pearce can lead the Blues to a Series win in 2014 he will likely have the NSW No.7 jersey for life but in just nine top grade appearances Luke Brooks has displayed a self assuredness and maturity beyond his years. His combination with Robbie Farah will lift the Wests Tigers into premiership contention in the next three years and there's no reason to suggest they couldn't be just as effective at Origin level together. Six try assists, five line-break assists and a short kicking game any successful Origin side needs in order to build pressure.
Aaron Woods and James Tamou
Quite possibly the favourites to get the nod from coach Daley in 2014, at 23 and 25 years of age respectively Woods and Tamou will only continue to get better with age and should act as the cornerstone of the NSW pack into the next decade. Both have busted through 1000 metres through nine rounds and Woods's 14 offloads have been integral in creating opportunities for his Wests Tigers teammates.
Robbie Farah (c)
Farah is already on the wrong side of 30 but he has almost drawn level with Paul Gallen as the spiritual leaders of the current NSW team. Laurie Daley's hopes for the 2014 Series will be in turmoil if Farah is not fit for Game One and he is a man who young players will be inspired by and rally around. He is also the most creative dummy-half in the game today, as his six try assists, seven line-break assists and four tries attest to.
Boyd Cordner and Wade Graham
Two players thrust into first grade well before the age most are ready but who have established themselves as future leaders of their respective clubs, and possibly their state. Barring injury or suspension, Cordner is a certainty to be named for Game One while Graham's chances may have received a boost by the impending suspension to Greg Bird. But Gallen, Bird, Watmough, Lewis and Hoffman can't play forever and Graham is the ideal Origin forward to come in; rough-and-tumble but with the skills of a five-eighth. His time will come.
He was cut from successive Origin deciders in 2011 and 2012 but there's nothing that Trent Merrin has done at either club or state level to suggest he shouldn't be part of NSW long-term plans. His 14 offloads for the Dragons this year are in the top 20 in the NRL and 16 tackle breaks show he is adept at breaking up the defence. In the modern era of 'middle' forwards, Merrin is the perfect combination of size and skill.
Along with Gold Coast's Paul Carter, Peats represents the next generation of NSW utility players capable of playing hooker or in the back row. Stuck behind Issac Luke at South Sydney, Peats has a reputation as being one of the most committed trainers in the NRL and has made a massive contribution to the changing fortunes of the Eels. Full of energy and dogged in defence, an Origin call-up is not beyond Peats this year.
Sims would have already been part of this NSW set-up – and he may yet well be in 2014 – if not for successive broken legs in the 2011 and 2012 seasons. But with those demons now well in the past and a move into lock forward at the Cowboys Sims's work-rate has increased and complements his damaging runs on the edges of the ruck. He is yet to score a try this season but there's no question Sims is a player with x-factor.
Perhaps unlucky to be overlooked for the Kangaroos and now with an ankle injury to manage, Fifita's form has been down slightly on his spectacular 2013 season but there's no question he will be part of the Blues set-up for the next five years at least. Jason Taumalolo is the only forward in the competition with more tackle breaks this season and his 22 offloads are second only to Corey Parker. And he's big. Really big.
It's nice to have tackle-busters, offloaders and line-breakers throughout your Origin squad but at the 75th minute of Game Three you need someone to push across in defence, close down a gap and be there for their mates. Young Bulldogs back-rower Josh Jackson has those qualities and more, as his four line-break assists and three try assists this season show. Every Origin team needs guys willing to do the hard work when others are putting their hand up for a breather.