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Ranking the Blues backs candidates for 2021 Origin

With two guns returning from injury and another getting better by the week, Blues coach Brad Fittler will be spoiled for choice when it comes to picking his back line.

With a host of specialist options and versatile in-form fullbacks to call on, there are likely to be changes from last year's series loss. NRL.com Stats has crunched the numbers on which players should fill the backline spots for NSW in this year's State of Origin series opener.

Blues backs candidates

Wing

Candidates: Josh Addo-Carr, Daniel Tupou, Brian To'o, Tom Trbojevic

Fresh off a historic six-try demolition of Souths, speedster Josh Addo-Carr is one of the safest players from either state at the selection table this year. Expect him to line up on the left wing on June 9; the decision though of who partners him on the opposite flank is a big one.

The incumbent is towering Rooster Daniel Tupou. The softly spoken Tongan will be available for all three Origin games with no mid-year Pacific Tests on the schedule.

He was reliable for the Blues last year and has been churning through big metres as always for the Roosters. He is also one of the safest wingers in the comp defending a high ball and one of the most dangerous when it comes to attacking with them.

The X-factor could be Panthers pocket rocket Brian To'o. The Sydney-born dynamo leads the NRL for total and average run metres, and is tied for first with David Fifita for tackle busts, while his 10 line breaks is just two behind leader Addo-Carr.

His error rate is a little high and kick defusal rate fairly low but his work out of yardage has been invaluable for Penrith this year.

Tupou's incumbency and strong form this year may just be enough to hold out To'o for the series opener but with every week that goes by, To'o is making it harder for Fittler to leave him out.

Manly fullback Tom Trbojevic simply has to be in the team - the real question for Fittler is where to put him with wing one option, but probably not the most likely one.

NRL.com verdict: Addo-Carr and Tupou.

Centre

Candidates: Tom Trbojevic, Jack Wighton, Clint Gutherson, Stephen Crichton, Latrell Mitchell

One of the most intriguing selections decisions for either state is who Brad Fittler eventually decides to put in the centres.

Last year's pairing of Jack Wighton and Clint Gutherson had a couple of costly defensive misses between them, with some calls for only specialist centres to be picked in the position.

It's hardly that simple though - Wighton has played a ton of centre in his career and dominated in the position for NSW in 2019. Defending one wider than his usual three-in spot is hardly beyond him, he just got caught out a couple of times last year.

Gutherson has also played plenty of centre and five-eighth and is a big body and reliable defender. While Wighton's form has been down in a struggling Raiders outfit, Gutherson is playing arguably even better footy now than when he was picked last year.

The Blues are spoiled for choice though. Manly superstar Trbojevic simply has to be in the 17 and that won't be in his regular club spot of fullback unless something befalls James Tedesco. Turbo was sensational at centre in the 2019 series win before missing last year due to his hamstring.

There is also South Sydney fullback Latrell Mitchell, whose four Test and four Origin caps have all been at centre back when he played the position regularly at the Roosters.

There is no question over his defensive capabilities in the role while the knock on him at Origin level previously – a supposed tendency to drift in and out of games – looks to be a trait of a player that no longer exists, with the Latrell that played the first six rounds of this year at fullback for Souths in absolutely devastating form and rarely far from the action.

He'll get one game back from suspension before the teams are picked to remind Fittler of what he can produce after a four-game layoff.

Zac Lomax and Campbell Graham are specialist centres and each was building a strong case for an Origin debut before thumb and wrist injuries respectively put each out of the series opener, while the another specialist centre in the frame, Newcastle's Bradman Best, hasn't been in peak form of late for the Knights.

The one specialist centre really putting his hand up is Penrith's Stephen Crichton.

His attacking form has been a little down on last year and his overall numbers have been dented by having to fill in at fullback while Dylan Edwards was sidelined but there's no arguing with the results: nine wins from nine games for the budding young Panther.

Overall it's tough to get a handle on what the numbers really mean given there are three fullbacks, one five-eighth and one centre in the mix but all five players are big, strong ball runners and physical defenders and all bar Crichton have Origin experience.

No matter who he picked Fittler will be leaving some very good players out of his team. Perhaps the best way to settle it is to ask who would Queensland least like to see picked so on that basis, we lean towards two superstars at the absolute top of their games with proven Origin-winning experience.

NRL.com verdict: Trbojevic and Mitchell.

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The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.