Daley eyes return of Origin utility role
The reduced interchange and increased fatigue in the game has Blues coach Laurie Daley seriously reconsidering his policy of previous years of using four forwards on the bench in the 2016 Origin series.
Josh Reynolds, Blake Austin, Dylan Walker and Matt Moylan are all players on Daley's radar for the sky blue No.14 jersey if he does decide to bring back the bench utility this year.
Not since Games I and II of 2013 (the first two games of his Origin coaching career) has Daley used a bench utility, with then-emerging Bulldogs playmaker Josh Reynolds given short spells off the bench in those games. Since then he has exclusively used four forwards on the bench with Josh Jackson the closest he has come to utility value outside the starting 13.
By contrast (and perhaps due to an embarrassment of riches in their playmaking stocks) Queensland have consistently used a utility on the bench throughout their past decade of dominance, even when those utilities haven't resembled a utility at NRL level (for example, Cooper Cronk and Daly Cherry-Evans playing exclusively at halfback outside of their rep careers).
Discussing what changes, if any, he is looking to make after last year's Game III disaster, Daley will look to largely stick solid having already made a move towards bringing through the next generation last year, but is eyeing a re-jig of his bench.
"The issue for us is probably our interchange bench - that's something we're going to look at more so than we probably have done in the last year or two," Daley said.
"The last year or two we've leaned towards having four forwards so we might tinker that and may go with three forwards and a utility, go back down that track but still undecided yet. Some clubs are going that way, some clubs are just going with four forwards, I think it will just be a gut feel, that one."
Canterbury have had a strong start to the year sticking with four forwards on the bench but the other teams to have done well so far – the Broncos, Storm, Titans and Eels have all won three from four – have been using a bench utility in most or all of their matches.
Daley's bench utility plan may hinge on what playmakers he chooses from those available at the time with only three of the men on his radar currently playing NRL week to week in Josh Reynolds, Trent Hodkinson and James Maloney.
However Austin, his Raiders clubmate Aiden Sezer and Rabbitoh Adam Reynolds (all injured) and Blues veteran Mitch Pearce (suspended) will all be back in time to stake their claims for Game I.
"[Austin and Josh Reynolds] can give you some cover in the halves or at hooker or wherever so they're guys you can look for if they don't make the starting side, they can be a bench player for you," Daley said.
"You've got Dylan walker as well, he's another one that could play on the bench for you and give you some cover, Moylan's probably another one when he gets going that can be a bench player and again that's something we'll look at closer to it, whether we go with four forwards again or go with that utility and have someone on the bench that can cover that position if it's not working or you need to make a change or inject something back into the team."