A wave of injuries to eligible outside backs has cast an unexpected wave of uncertainty over how the NSW back line will shape up on June 5, though two incumbents simply need to stay fit to be certain selections.
On the back of last year's emphatic series victory in his Origin coaching debut, Brad Fittler faces a few selection conundrums in choosing his speedsters to trot out in the centres and on the wings.
NRL.com Stats has crunched the numbers to work out who has the best claim to take over the vacated jerseys.
Blues backs candidates
Candidates: Josh Addo-Carr, Nick Cotric, Daniel Tupou
One of two set positions, Addo-Carr will be straight back in sky-blue barring injury. A few weeks ago he was arguably having a slower start to the season compared to 2018 but those jet-heels were on full display in a length-of-the-field stunner against the Eels in Magic Round and he now has more tries and busts than any of the other likely candidates on either flank.
Tupou is having a good season, has played Origin before and appears to have suffered no serious injury in a round-nine crusher tackle. Cotric has been far less eye-catching early this year compared to last, with his busts dropping from 62 after nine rounds in 2018 to 33 this year. He has one fewer try and two fewer line breaks compared to this time last year but his average metres have crept up slightly.
- Ranking Maroons spine candidates
- Ranking Blues spine candidates
- Ranking the Maroons backs candidates
While both are specialist left wingers for their clubs it is not impossible they would be considered on the right if necessary.
Cotric has also been named at right centre in the absence of Joey Leilua this week (a position he played in the juniors) but would be coming from a way back to stake his claim for the vexed NSW right-centre slot.
NRL.com left wing verdict: Josh Addo-Carr
Candidates: Latrell Mitchell, Jarrod Croker, Josh Morris
The other safe spot, assuming Mitchell suffers no ongoing ill-effects from his groin injury in round nine, with the damaging Rooster one of the form players across the competition. He dominated Origin last year and in particular opposite centre Will Chambers and will be one of the first names on the team sheet.
Croker's name is often put forth, certainly by Raiders fans, as a potential rep player and there is no question he's a wonderful club player with great attacking instincts and a good on-field leader. The knock on him usually comes back to his defence and unfortunately it looks like it will count against him in 2019 too – his effective tackle percentage is the worst of any player in contention while he has also been complicit in the most opposition line breaks of any of the contenders.
Josh Morris is playing left centre for the Sharks but spent most of his 14-game Origin career at right centre and is starting to shape up as a genuine chance of being recalled in that spot given his own strong recent form and the spate of injuries. A renowned defensive centre, his numbers off the ball stack up very favourably against all the other candidates but his attacking numbers are just as impressive with 27 busts, seven line breaks and five tries this year.
NRL.com left centre verdict: Latrell Mitchell
Candidates: James Roberts, Jesse Ramien, Jack Wighton
With James Roberts down on form and not in the Broncos' Telstra Premiership line-up, it looks likely the Blues will be making a change at right centre unless "The Jet" can show something over the next two games. Jack Bird was shortening dramatically before his injury while Joey Leilua also had claims before his neck surgery. While players like Kotoni Staggs, Zac Lomax and Bronson Xerri look like options for 2020 and beyond, experience will probably exclude them this year.
The above-mentioned Cotric would need a massive two weeks to be a chance of playing his third top-level game of centre in the Origin arena and while Morris hasn't played Origin since 2016 he is the type of player who would let no-one down.
Of specialist right centres who are actually playing that position week to week, Jesse Ramien stands as nearly the only candidate. Much has been made of his lack of opportunity this year at Newcastle but the stats don't really bear that out, with his average runs down less than one per game on last year – although his metres have dropped almost 20 per game with his average busts surprisingly jumping from around 3.5 to 5.5. His 44 busts are the most of any of the options though his defensive record is the weakest of any bar Croker while his error rate is a touch high.
Roberts actually has the best defensive numbers of anyone in the list, though his urgency and effort looked highly questionable in the round-eight loss to Souths that led to him being dropped and his running game – theoretically his biggest strength – has been very quiet.
Raiders five-eighth Wighton is a left-field option but as a big body, stout defender and dangerous runner who has played a stack of centre in the past, he is in the conversation. Able to cover fullback, five-eighth and centre he could also press for a bench spot.
NRL.com right centre verdict: Josh Morris switches in from the left
Candidates: Blake Ferguson, Campbell Graham, Josh Dugan
Incumbent Tom Trbojevic is out with a hamstring injury so this is the one position in the NSW outside backs that will definitely have a new face.
Looking at form and stats, there is no question Eels recruit Blake Ferguson is streets ahead of the other options. He's making the most metres, has been impeccable under the high ball and has been scoring and setting up tries. Beyond that he looks as settled as he has ever been while teammates rave about his attitude and leadership. The question is whether he will be looked at after misdemeanours in previous camps and a failure to attend a 2019 pre-season get-together organised by coach Brad Fittler. There is also a question of whether it is time to look more forwards than backwards.
If those issues count against him, Graham is in good form and spent all of 2018 on the right wing before moving to the left this year. The young Rabbitoh is scoring plenty of tries but doesn't have the strongest yardage game of those available and has had a few shaky moments under the high ball.
Josh Dugan has played centre, wing and fullback for the Sharks and could be a candidate at right wing or centre. However he has had some injury concerns this year which has made it hard for him to produce his best football. Still, he's a big body and strong runner who is hard to bring down and has excelled for NSW at fullback.
NRL.com right wing verdict: Ferguson
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.