Blues squad almost finalised: Daley
Players looking to impress New South Wales Blues coach Laurie Daley this weekend might have left their run too late after he revealed State of Origin selectors were already close to settling on their squad for Game One.
Daley confirmed he was confident on the make-up of the majority of the 17-man squad but offered some hope to those on the periphery when he said nothing was set in stone.
"I think in our minds we know who we want and I think it's just a matter of guys getting through the weekend injury free. If they can get through injury free then we'll have a settled team," Daley said.
"What I do know about selecting the team – and I said earlier, in your mind you've got an idea of what you want – but until you actually get through the weekend's round, you don't know who you're going to end up with.
"There's no point speculating until we actually sit around the selection table on Sunday night, and when we sit down at that selection table we'll discuss all the options available to us."
Rather than blooding a number of rookies for the series opener on June 1, the Blues mentor indicated he would stick with the bulk of the squad that was hammered 52-6 at Suncorp Stadium in Game Three last year.
"I think there's a list of guys that you've got in mind," Daley said.
"But in terms of new faces I don't know whether there'll be too many new faces in this team at all. I like to keep an open mind with a group of players in the back of my mind that I know can do the job if I need them to.
"When we sit down that's when we'll get to the nuts and bolts of who's in and who's out."
Daley refused to buy into suggestions that players would be selected depending on how their club sides were performing.
"Whether they've won seven in a row or whether someone's playing in a team that hasn't won a game, everyone will be looked at and scrutinised and we'll pick the best team that we think can possibly beat Queensland," he said.
Much of the attention at Monday afternoon's media opportunity at the True Blues Touch Game at ANZ Stadium focussed on the availability of Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce.
The incumbent NSW No.7 is just two games back from an eight-game suspension and has gone on record as saying he would prefer to concentrate on helping his club side recover from their poor start to the season.
"Mitch is a guy who I've had a conversation to at the start of the year and the focus has always been on getting himself in the best possible shape and just concentrating on the Roosters and playing well for them. That's all it's been; nothing more," the Blues coach said.
"I think all I'm doing is I want Mitch to be in the right headspace without any speculation about whether he's going to be in the team or whether he's not.
"My focus is on him as a person first and foremost and then him playing well for the Roosters. That's his number one and two priorities at this stage. After that we'll see where it leads."
Asked if the Roosters halfback was a chance of retaining his Blues jersey, Daley had this to say: "I haven't even thought of Mitch. I think for me, as I said before, I want Mitch to play the games for the Roosters without putting any pressure on him whatsoever and what will happen after that will happen.
"In terms of whether he'll be selected or not, it's not even on my radar.
"I will make the decision on whether we want to go with Mitchell Pearce, but again, I haven't even thought of Mitch as an option."
The other position up for debate was who would wear the No.1 jersey. Josh Dugan excelled at fullback in last year's series, winning the Brad Fittler Medal for being the best player across all three games.
Daley said there were a number of players putting their hand up for the role, and hinted that the Dragons fullback could move to the centres where he formed a strong combination with Blake Ferguson for the Kangaroos in the Anzac Test match.
"I think both those guys can play a number of positions and they're both guys that have been at the Origin level before so I think they'll handle it wherever they play," he said when asked about the Kangaroos' right edge combination.
"We've got a number of options at fullback. I've been on record as saying that Josh will be in the team – it's just a matter of whether he's fit and available and where we pick him – he'll be there somewhere.
"You've got Lachlan Coote and you've got young Matt Moylan and obviously young James Tedesco – who has been injured – but we've got a lot of depth in that position and whoever we pick there I'm sure will do the job."
Incumbent dummy-half Robbie Farah sent a scare through the Origin camp when he was stretchered from the field on Sunday afternoon during the Wests Tigers' loss to the Bulldogs after colliding awkwardly with Josh Reynolds and then hitting his head on the ground.
Daley was about to provide an update when he was disturbed mid-sentence.
"It didn't look great yesterday but he's…" Daley said before being interrupted by a phone call from none other than Farah himself.
"I texted him last night and obviously was going to talk to him today. I'll talk to him after this.
"I'm glad he's OK. You never like to see that happen to anyone."