Why Dragons and Panthers should dominate Blues
St George Illawarra and Penrith's positions at the top of the NRL ladder should convince NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler to turn back the clock and adopt a selection philosophy which delivered sustained State of Origin success under his mentor Phil Gould.
Gould is the most successful Blues coach in Holden State of Origin history, guiding the state to six series wins during two stints from 1992-1996 and 2002-2004 with teams built around players from in-form clubs. The 2002 series was also drawn.
After leading the Telstra Premiership all season, the Dragons have Tyson Frizell, Euan Aitken, Cameron McInnes, Paul Vaughan, Jack de Belin and Tariq Sims under serious consideration for Blues selection.
Just two points behind in second place, the Panthers could have halves James Maloney and Nathan Cleary, utility Tyrone Peachey and prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard in the NSW side when it is named next Monday.
St George Illawarra and Penrith meet in a top-of-the-table clash on Saturday night but regardless of the result, Fittler should pencil in the six Dragons and four Panthers before he considers any other contenders.
Add Sydney Roosters second-rower Boyd Cordner and left centre Latrell Mitchell, who defend next to each other, as well as fullback James Tedesco, and the Blues would only need to find four other players for Origin I at the MCG on June 6.
With 11 tries between them this season, Frizell and Aitken have developed a strong right side pairing in attack as well as defence, while McInnes is a clever dummy half and a strong tackler in the middle of the ruck.
It is a model the Maroons adopted out of necessity as there are just three NRL clubs based in Queensland, while Melbourne also provides a lot of their players.
During the 28-year history of State of Origin, Queensland has used 197 players compared to 267 by NSW.
However, under Gould’s coaching the Blues not only used a minimal number of players during each winning series but they were drawn largely from clubs like Illawarra, Newcastle, Penrith and Canberra.
- 1992: 21 players used, including four each from Illawarra and Penrith and three each from Balmain and Canberra;
- 1993: 22 players used, including four from Canberra and three each from Illawarra and Balmain;
- 1994: 20 players, including five from Canberra and three each from Illawarra and Balmain;
- 1996: 17 players used, including four each from Canberra and Newcastle, and two each from Parramatta and Manly;
- 2003: 20 players used, including five from Newcastle, four Roosters, three Dragons and two from Canterbury;
- 2004: 25 players used, including seven Dragons, five Roosters and four each from Penrith and Newcastle.
During Gould's first stint as NSW coach, Blues teams regularly featured club combinations such as Penrith's Brad Fittler and Graham Mackay as one centre-wing pairing, with Illawarra's Paul McGregor and Rod Wishart the other.
Canberra's Ricky Stuart and Laurie Daley were the first choice halves.
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In his second stint, Gould opted for Newcastle's Matt Gidley and Timana Tahu as a centre-wing pairing and Parramatta’s Jamie Lyon and Jason Moodie as the other, along with the Knights halfback-hooker combination of Andrew Johns and Danny Buderus.
If Fittler was to adopt a similar philosophy, NSW would have a ready-made halves pairing in Maloney and Cleary but even if he chose Roosters five-eighth Luke Keary the Blues could have the Roosters left-sided combination as he defends inside Cordner.
Bulldogs prop David Klemmer, Storm winger Josh Addo-Carr and Manly lock Jake Trbojevic are considered near certainties, while Sea Eagles fullback Tom Trbojevic is vying for a wing spot with Canberra’s Nick Cotric and Roosters international Blake Ferguson.
Other contenders are Canterbury prop Aaron Woods and second-rower Josh Jackson, South Sydney hooker Damien Cook, Brisbane centre James Roberts and Cronulla international Josh Dugan.
Possible team: James Tedesco (Roosters); Tom Trbojevic (Sea Eagles), Euan Aitken (Dragons), Latrell Mitchell (Roosters), Josh Addo-Carr (Storm); James Maloney (Panthers), Nathan Cleary (Panthers); Paul Vaughan (Dragons), Cameron McInnes (Dragons), Reagan Campbell-Gillard (Panthers), Tyson Frizell (Dragons), Boyd Cordner (Roosters), Jake Trbojevic (Sea Eagles). Interchange: Tyrone Peachey (Panthers), David Klemmer (Bulldogs), Jack de Belin (Dragons), Tariq Sims (Dragons).
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of NRL.com or the NRL.
Witness Australia's greatest sporting rivalry when Origin comes to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday, June 6. Tickets available at NRL.com/tickets.