After attending weekly spine meetings with Wade Graham since his arrival at Cronulla this season, Shaun Johnson has no doubt the Sharks captain could play five-eighth for NSW in Origin but he believes Blues coach Brad Fittler should leave him on the bench.
Johnson, who called out to Graham on the way to a meeting of the Cronulla playmakers on Thursday that the media were asking whether he was worried about losing his Sharks No.6 jersey to him, backed the 28-year-old to do the job for NSW if selected in the position.
However, the star Kiwis five-eighth suggested it would make more sense for Fittler to partner Mitchell Pearce or another playmaker with James Maloney in the halves and leave Graham to perform the bench utility role as he did in last Sunday night's 38-6 win at Perth's Optus Stadium.
"Say Jimmy goes down, what do you do then?" Johnson said. "That's the argument right there so why go down that road.
"I'm no selector but I personally think they should be bringing Wade off the bench still just for that cover. Why would you sacrifice that cover that he brings, especially when you have got someone like Pearce playing the way he is playing."
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Graham was called on replace NSW captain Boyd Cordner in the 14th minute and played left second-row until his return from a HIA in the 30th minute before taking over the five-eighth role after Nathan Cleary succumbed to an ankle injury at half-time.
If Maloney and Graham were the halves in the July 10 series decider at ANZ Stadium, the Blues would need to find another bench utility to cover for an injury to either of them or hooker Damien Cook.
"The thing is he could do the job but how are [NSW] going to be even more safe," Johnson said. "Pearce is probably the form half of the comp, Wade is the form back-rower/half/utility, or whatever you want him to be."
Despite his caution about NSW selecting Graham at five-eighth, Johnson said he was not surprised by how well he adapted to the role in Perth after returning from a knee reconstruction just two weeks before the Blues squad was chosen.
While he now plays as an edge second-rower, Graham began his career with Penrith as a five-eighth and is regarded as a "footballer" capable of playing almost any position.
"Obviously he has been playing back row for a few years now but in terms of his mind and the way he looks at the game it is still like a half," Johnson said.
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"Since I came here he has been in every conversation that we have had, even though he has been out injured, about the way we want to play so I was definitely not surprised by what he produced in Perth.
"He has obviously got a crucial role on that edge and his knowledge around the game is right up there. He is not an athlete, he is a footballer."
Regardless of who Fittler selects to replace Cleary, Johnson said Maloney would be calling the shots on the field for NSW.
"He is your out-and-out half, and whether it is Wado, Pearce or whoever … anyone that knows Jimmy knows that he is a half," said Johnson, who began his career alongside Maloney at the Warriors in 2011.
"He is often the loudest person in the room, he has often got the most to say, he often will be sledging people after he has just f----d up, he is the best at letting things go and I think that on a big stage like that you need to be able to let things go."
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Meanwhile, Johnson said his return to Auckland last weekend for New Zealand's Test against Tonga had inspired him to do everything possible to ensure success for the Sharks this season.
After playing just one match for Cronulla after a five-week stint on the sideline with a hamstring injury, Johnson was selected to partner Benji Marshall in the halves for the first time in seven years and he earned man-of-the-match honours in the Kiwis' 34-14 defeat of Tonga.
"Every time we get to go into camp it is always special but for some reason that one just had a bit of a different feel," he said. "Maybe it was because it was against Tonga or me going back to New Zealand or Benji coming back into the group, there was a lot of elements that just got me really excited by it.
"I definitely came back here with a mindset to really go after the back end of the season. Missing games for the club that showed a lot of faith in me to get me over here in the first place has been really tough so I want to stay healthy but I want to go after everything and give it a real crack."