As good as they are, all of these NRL stars have been constantly overlooked for higher honours. This is our No-rigin 17 and it’s a more than handy line-up.
We haven’t named in this side any up-and-comers who look set to play Origin in the next few years. Rather, it’s the guys who have proved their genuine quality at NRL level but haven’t quite been deemed worthy of a shot at rugby league’s ultimate contest. Gents, we salute you.
1. Ben Barba (Qld): The Broncos fullback was the Dally M Medallist in 2012, after an incredible season for the Bulldogs that saw him score length-of-the-field tries at will. The 24-year-old may yet get a Maroons jersey as a bench utility but he hasn’t had a prayer of playing fullback with Billy Slater and Greg Inglis in front of him. Now facing the prospect of also being overtaken in the utility stakes by future Brisbane teammate Anthony Milford.
2. Pat Richards (NSW): Who knows – if Richards, now 32, had remained in Australia after winning the 2005 premiership with Wests Tigers, perhaps he would have played a stack of Origins. As he’s demonstrated in his return NRL season, Richards is a freakish talent both with the ball in hand and on the boot. The big winger was an absolute superstar in England with Wigan, winning the 2010 Man of Steel award and every team trophy on offer.
3. Will Chambers (Qld): He’s donned the maroon of Queensland plenty of times – but only for Super Rugby team the Reds. Chambers, 25, is a tremendous talent who has shown excellent form for the Storm again this season but given he’s been trailing Inglis and Justin Hodges for a Maroons centres spot it’s no great surprise he remains an Origin virgin.
4. Chris Lawrence (NSW): Six Tests for Australia but no Origins. Lawrence, 25, is a terrific player whose class is highlighted by his Kangaroos jerseys, yet injury has constantly robbed him of the opportunity to win a Blues debut and he has never gone closer than an 18th man pick. Now stuck behind Michael Jennings and Josh Morris, to name only the incumbents, the Wests Tigers star may be waiting a while yet.
5. David Simmons (NSW): The Panthers winger has spent his entire career under the radar but is a very reliable performer who was the equal top try-scorer for last season. There has been a regular turnover of wingers in the Blues team, yet Simmons, 29, has never had a genuine look-in due to selectors opting for flashier players.
6. John Sutton (NSW): A tremendously gifted player who has gone from enigma to consistent performer under the reign of current Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire. Sutton, 29, has a pair of City Origin jerseys to his name and is the most capped player in South Sydney’s rich history, yet has come no closer to a debut than last season’s fruitless squad call-up. That may well change on Tuesday, with Sutton touted as a strong chance to make Laurie Daley's squad.
7. Chris Sandow (Qld): To be frank, Sandow has never earned a call-up to Mal Meninga’s side, yet the Eels halfback remains a prodigiously talented playmaker. Though he’s spent time in Emerging Maroons camps, Sandow, 25, seems destined to never make the step up to a Maroons jersey, given Daly Cherry-Evans will inherit the No.7 jersey of Cooper Cronk.
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9. Nathan Friend (Qld): Never had a chance of being picked thanks to his career running parallel with champion Cameron Smith, plus Matt Ballin and Jake Friend. But few play the game as wholeheartedly as the Warriors rake, 33, who earlier this season outdid his own immense standards for defensive work by making an absurd 70 tackles against the Sharks.
10. Luke Douglas (NSW): Has played an astounding 203 consecutive NRL games, an all-time record – yet not a single match for NSW. The Titans front-rower, 28, has been thereabouts in the reckoning for Blues selection without really assuming genuine bolter status. The closest he has come was when then-Sharks teammate Kade Snowden pipped him at the post in 2010.
11. Tariq Sims (NSW): Injury and subsequent slow form has consistently prevented Cowboys ace Sims from taking the leap into the Origin cauldron, having been tagged a future NSW player ever since his NRL debut in 2011. Sims, 24, is a powerhouse on his day but wouldn’t you know it, he has picked up an ankle injury this season just as he was building a great case for a maiden Blues jersey.
12. Chris Heighington (NSW): The rugged Sharks back-rower got so sick of waiting on his chance for Blues selection that in 2011 he quit and played for England. Heighington, 32, is beloved by his teammates as one of those players always willing to do the dirty work, which would seemingly have made him perfect for Origin. Yet a couple of Country jerseys is a close as he came.
13. Shaun Fensom (NSW): Fensom’s repeated rep snubs have infuriated the many admirers of the Raiders lock, to the point where he was the first picked for this team. With the Blues tending to opt for attacking impact over defensive grit, Fensom, 25, has never stood a serious chance of being picked. He couldn’t even get a game for Country this season, despite his classy attacking output now comparing well against his immense tackling workload.
14. Gavin Cooper (Qld): A very decent footballer who has been on the outer during the Maroons’ golden era, though the Cowboys back-rower got a PM’s XIII nod last year.
15. Ryan Hinchcliffe (NSW): A favourite of Storm coach Craig Bellamy, the tough and versatile 29-year-old played an absolute blinder for Country in 2011 but remains uncapped.
16. Chris Houston (NSW): The strong Knights forward, 29, was 18th man for the Blues back in 2009 but now seems unlikely to ever take the next step.
17. Feleti Mateo (NSW): The freakishly talented Warriors back-rower, 30, was fairly close to the mark some years back but looks to have dropped well off the pace.