Having crunched the numbers on all available candidates over the past three weeks then factored in for fresh injuries and suspensions, NRL.com Stats has compiled its best possible Blues team for the State of Origin series opener on June 9.
Blues coach Brad Fittler will officially name his team on Sunday night but second-rower Tyson Frizell faces a nervous wait before the match review committee announces his findings.
Frizell was placed on report during Sunday's match against Manly for a high shot on Martin Taupau.
As well as learning he will only attract a fine for the high tackle charge he received on Sunday, Isaah Yeo was told on Nine's Sunday Footy Show that he was in the squad for game one.
Also on Sunday, Blues coach Brad Fittler South Sydney forward Cameron Murray has not been charged despite being placed on report. Reports also emerged that Brian To'o would be part of the Blues squad.
Frizell placed on report for high contact on Taupau
Rabbitohs five-eighth Cody Walker and Eels pair Nathan Brown and Ryan Matterson have also escaped charges after being placed on report after Saturday's matches.
Broncos prop Payne Haas suffered a knee injury against Melbourne on Thursday but it was announced on Sunday that he is expected to be fit for selection.
Another hot selection topic is who will partner Nathan Cleary in the halves between his Penrith teammate Jarome Luai, Raiders star Jack Wighton or Rabbitoh Walker, who was in devastating form in the big win over the Eels.
Sure-fire picks Angus Crichton (suspension) and Ryan Papenhuyzen (concussion) have been ruled out of the series opener, creating a serious conundrum in terms of edge forwards and bench utility role.
Meanwhile, Fittler told Channel 9 that Panthers young gun Matt Burton was under strong consideration for an Origin debut via the bench, potentially as 18th man.
"He plays lots of positions. He's in the right place at the right time all the time, he's a really good player, his defence looks sound," he said.
"The one thing they [Penrith] do really well is work off the ball for each other, that's one thing you've got to do in Origin is work pretty hard.
"That 14 position, you've just go to see what positions you can cover. Now he's got a position he's one of the best players every week. It just looks like he's unflappable."
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Blues likely team for Origin I
1. James Tedesco. The best player in the world for the past few years, Tedesco's 2021 form has been strong but no match for the scintillating work of Sea Eagle Tom Trbojevic. However as captain and with momentous performances in Origin over recent years, it's impossible to shift Teddy from the No.1 jersey.
2. Josh Addo-Carr. One of the first names on the team sheet on the left wing, Addo-Carr's six-try haul against Souths three weeks ago simply underscores the threat he provides on the flank.
3. Latrell Mitchell. One of the most vexed spots for the Blues is centre, after makeshift duo Jack Wighton and Clint Gutherson were caught out at times last year. Mitchell's powerful form at the back for Souths and years of experience as a centre at club and rep level should count for plenty.
4. Tom Trbojevic. The only question is where to put the Sea Eagles talisman, whether it's his preferred spot of fullback, on the wing or in the centres. He is no stranger to any of the three roles but dominated as a roaming centre in 2019 before missing last year injured so takes the spot over the likes of Stephen Crichton, Wighton and Gutherson.
5. Brian To'o. Another tricky call, with Daniel Tupou also well in the running. To'o's love of hard work, powerful running game and great finishing ability seem likely to get him the nod.
6. Jarome Luai. A contested position but an easy decision. Luai is riding a two-year crest of form that almost rivals that of halves partner Nathan Cleary, with the pair enjoying a near telepathic combination.
Aside from leading the NRL for try assists for the second year running, Luai perhaps surprisingly has better defensive numbers than any other available half including Cleary and Wighton. The fact Queensland would love to see anyone but Luai in this jersey tells you all you need to know.
7. Nathan Cleary. Perhaps the only name to be inked on the team sheet before Addo-Carr. Hasn't perhaps quite dominated the interstate arena just yet but has been a part of two series wins out of three and, along with Trbojevic, has been the most dominant player in the NRL this year. At the absolute top of his game.
8. Payne Haas*. Newcastle's David Klemmer has the numbers but Brad Fittler is expected to stick with Haas, despite the fact he was kept quiet in last year's losing decider. Haas has again been massive for Brisbane in 2021 with a huge motor and is always hard to bring down. *Haas suffered a knee injury on Thursday night and could be in doubt for the series opener.
9. Damien Cook. Some talk he may be under threat for his spot from Api Koroisau but, as good as Koroisau has been for the Panthers, Cook's own form hasn't been as bad as some have suggested and his runs on the board at this level should have him safe for at least the first game.
10. Daniel Saifiti. Has to be in the squad somewhere. The punch on his carries remains a huge weapon, with his metres per hit-up better than almost any available prop behind Haas.
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11. Tyson Frizell. Was already likely in the team before Crichton's suspension but as a specialist edge forward in strong form with a great pedigree in Origin football, has to take one of the back row spots.
12. Cameron Murray. It remains possible a specialist edge like Ryan Matterson or Tevita Pangai jr may force their way into the starting side but Murray, if fit, has to be in the 17.
His most valuable position is arguably bench with his versatility, impact and leg speed making him perfectly suited to that role but has played plenty of edge in recent years and has Origin experience.
13. Isaah Yeo. In a truly stacked position with Murray, incumbent Jake Trbojevic, Dale Finucane, Nathan Brown and the now-suspended Victor Radley all jostling for a spot, Yeo stands tall. One of the most underrated players in the game, his ball-playing and linking role are central to everything Penrith does well.
Even the nuts and bolts of his stand-alone work as a middle forward is top tier with his numbers in runs and metres as good as any of the contenders.
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14. Jack Wighton. Papenhuyzen was pencilled in for this spot but with the Storm flyer sidelined, the out-of-form Raider gets a reprieve. A big body with Origin experience who covers multiple spots and is favoured by the coach, Wighton's 2019 Origin exploits will hold him in good stead at the selection table.
15. Jake Trbojevic. Six weeks ago there was talk the Blues' incumbent lock may miss the squad altogether but Manly's woes are long gone and Jake is quite simply built for Origin.
Has never let his state down and while his work is rarely eye-catching it is always quality. Unlucky to lose the starting spot but Yeo's form and combination with his halves is too hard to ignore while Trbojevic has excelled as a big-minute bench middle for the Blues in the past.
16. Ryan Matterson. The main beneficiary of Crichton's suspension, Matterson gets a chance to come into the 17 after previously spending time as a squad member. Had a long lay-off with concussion this year but hasn't missed a beat since returning in round eight.
With Radley suspended and Murray now in the starting side, there was a gap for a forward with some versatility and some ball skills on the bench.
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17. Junior Paulo. While all the numbers suggest Knights big man David Klemmer should be in the 17, he is out of favour with the coach and appears no chance of being selected.
Paulo had his moments last year and while his defensive numbers aren't as strong as the other candidates, his ball-playing and offloading offer a point of difference in a bench impact role.
18th man. Clint Gutherson. The Eels skipper is versatile and was part of last year's squad but Fittler has declared Panthers rising star Matt Burton a strong chance of forcing his way into the team and the fifth reserve could be a good way to ease him into the cauldron of Origin.
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