NSW coach Brad Fittler admits that concerns about how to counter Queensland's potent left edge is keeping him up at night as the loss of Tom Trbojevic and form of Nathan Cleary and James Roberts pose an unwanted selection headache.
Fitter admitted at the launch of the upcoming series in Sydney on Wednesday that about six Blues spots were up for grabs in the next two rounds of the Telstra Premiership, with the most pressing issues being who will play alongside second-rower Tyson Frizell in NSW's right side defence.
The Blues coach wants to remain loyal to Cleary but mentioned South Sydney's Adam Reynolds and Newcastle's Mitchell Pearce as alternatives to the Penrith halfback, while a new winger will need to be found for Trbojevic and Fittler won't retain Roberts at centre if he isn't playing for Brisbane.
Panthers prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard is another player likely to be out of contention after also being dropped this week, while five-eighth James Maloney's position may depend on whether Fittler sticks with Cleary, his Penrith halves partner.
However, Fittler's most pressing problem before naming the team for the June 5 series opener at Suncorp Stadium is finding a new right edge combination to mark the likes of Cameron Munster, Michael Morgan and Corey Oates.
"That whole right side … you wake up in cold sweats," Fittler said. "My wife cops elbows at 3am.
"We need to nail it because if you have Cameron Munster and Kalyn Ponga coming down that side … if we don't get that right it wouldn't matter who else is in your team. That is without doubt their strength, it has been their strength for 15 years.
"There's three positions [to settle]. We are pretty set on Tyson, I think he did a great job last year so you could pretty much pen him in but there is a lot of people for that right side."
Roberts isn't playing at all this weekend and Fittler admitted that Josh Morris and Mitchell Aubusson would come under consideration for right centre due to their experience and defensive ability.
"We are weighing up a winger too, we lost Turbo from last year and we went from putting a fullback to the wing so that means there wasn't really a right winger we were confident in," he said.
Parramatta's Blake Ferguson would appear to be the front-runner but Fittler said combinations may help decide some positions.
Reynolds plays with in-form Rabbitohs five-eighth Cody Walker and hooker Damien Cook, while Roosters playmaker Luke Keary was his scrum-base partner when Souths won the 2014 premiership.
Pearce has also played with Keary and Maloney at the Roosters, as well as second-rower Boyd Cordner and centre Latrell Mitchell.
"The combination thing always comes up in our conversations," he said. "That's why I think obviously Adam Reynolds is one. Even with Mitchell Pearce he knows a lot of the Rooster boys as well.
"The other team [Queensland] have shown how important combinations are and those players have also been the best players for their club week in week out for 10 years. That's the thing we need to try to put pressure on our players to become."
Asked whether Cleary posed his greatest selection headache because of his age and potential, Fittler said: "Yeah, it's tough because I like him. I know what sort of kid he is and I really gravitate towards him because everyone knows what sort of personality he is. It's a tough one, absolutely".
However, Fittler insisted he was prepared to make tough decisions.
"No one had a clue what we were going to pick last year and we were really confident about who we were going to pick," he said. "This year there was always going to be a lot of talk about incumbency and you want to be loyal because you build relationships with people but my job is to be loyal to the jersey.
"I need to be loyal to having the best possible team that is going to represent our state, inspire young kids and win a State of Origin series."
The team to begin the Blues campaign to win back-to-back Origin series for the first time since 2005 will be announced on May 26.
After the opening game in Brisbane on June 5, the series will move to Optus Stadium in Perth on June 23 with Origin III to be played at ANZ Stadium on July 10.
Match: Maroons v Blues
Game 1 -
- Match odds provider: sportsbet
Home Team Maroons Odds
Away Team Blues Odds
Venue: Suncorp Stadium