NSW Origin coach Laurie Daley says he has been impressed by the recent club form of fringe Blues like Paul Vaughan, Jack de Belin and Jordan McLean – but the reason the latter two are in the extended squad rather than Vaughan comes down purely to showing good form over a longer period.
Dragons sensation Vaughan is arguably the form prop in the NRL; the impact he has had on an already-strong Dragons pack in a short period has been nothing short of phenomenal.
His complete transformation from reserve-grader under Ricky-Stuart at the Raiders last year to game-breaker at the Dragons under Paul McGregor in 2017 had plenty of Blues fans demanding his inclusion.
Specialist props Aaron Woods, David Klemmer and Andrew Fifita plus middle forwards Tyson Frizell and Jake Trbojevic (on debut) were named in Daley's 17; Storm prop Jordan McLean and Vaughan's teammate, lock Jack de Belin, were included as part of an extended Blues squad.
Speaking at the launch of the 2017 Game One team at The Star on Monday night Daley said Vaughan's recent efforts had been noticed but the Italian International needed more than 11 weeks of hot form to break into the Origin arena.
"All those guys have played really well for their clubs and that's what we want to see," Daley said.
"A couple of those guys (McLean and de Belin) that have been rewarded in this extended squad have played well now for 18 months and that's what you want to see.
"Guys that don't just play well for a period of time, you want to see them play well for a year, 18 months. Once you know they're consistent at clubland by doing that then you know they're ready for the next level and that's why those guys have been included [ahead of Vaughan]."
In defence of Daley's decisions, two of his three props in Klemmer and Fifita starred for Australia in the recent Anzac Test while the other – Woods – would have played for the Kangaroos in that game had he not been ruled out with injury.
Of the only other two men who could theoretically have been ousted for Vaughan, Frizell demanded inclusion after starring for the Blues last year while Trbojevic has also been in irresistible form and excelled in his two Tests for Australia to date, including the recent Anzac clash.
Daley didn’t rule out changes through the series if the players picked for Game One didn't rise to the occasion given the quality of players available to come in.
"We've got plenty of depth so the challenge for players this year is to not feel comfortable because we've got players underneath and we probably haven't had that in the past," Daley said.
"We've got a good group of players to choose from, the ball's in their court. They know now they have to perform. If they don't we've got other people ready to go. That's the pressure we've been looking to build internally in our squad.
"I don't know whether we've had that group of players in the past where we can make a lot of changes.
"This year there's been a lot of guys that are unlucky to miss selection but that's what you want, you want them to be hungry as well and you want them to make sure when their opportunity arises they're ready to take it."
Crucially for the fringe players is Daley's preference to have most of the squad consist of players with Test or Origin experience and to phase new players in gradually. Last year the likes of Wade Graham and Frizell lifted to the task; for Game One this year only Trbojevic and hooker Nathan Peats are on debut.
"People keep forgetting that Origin is a different game to clubland and experience counts for a lot. Never underestimate experience in a big game like this," he said.
"If you're putting in a team of rookies you want to be sure that they're going to go on and become genuine superstars because if you don't you can wreck their career. That's what you've got to be careful of, that's what I've always been careful of and I'll continue to do that."