New South Wales Origin Contenders 2015: The Backs
We’re now just a month away from the Game One teams announcements, and with injuries, suspensions and form slumps wreaking havoc across the NRL already this year we might be in for a few surprises when the squads are finally named. We begin our look at the men competing for spots in what could be the most contentious group in this year’s series: the Blues backline.
The Blues’ hopes of defending their breakthrough series win was dealt the worst possible blow before the 2015 season even began, with fullback Jarryd Hayne suspending his league career to try his luck in the NFL. While Hayne’s occasional wizardry is irreplaceable, Laurie Daley has named a trio of contenders who would all bring their own strengths to the position. St George-Illawarra’s Josh Dugan has reverted to the position in 2015 and is in fine form of late – he looks to be the frontrunner at this stage, however his ability to play centre or five-eighth could see him picked elsewhere in Daley’s squad.
Penrith excitement machine Matthew Moylan forced his way into the Kangaroos squad last year and has picked up where he left off, emerging as a genuine candidate for an Origin debut. Daley does love fielding club combinations in his squads and Moylan’s hopes can only improve if fellow Panther Josh Mansour earns a spot on the wing. Manly’s Brett Stewart boasts plenty of Origin experience and is a proven big-game performer, but form and fitness are not in his favour at the moment. Daley has ruled out Tigers sensation James Tedesco for the time being, but he may come into calculations later in the series.
Daley has plenty to think about here, with Brett Morris expected to miss the series and fellow 2014 wingers Daniel Tupou, James McManus and Will Hopoate all struggling desperately for form in 2015. Of that trio, Tupou would be the most likely to retain his spot given his club combination with likely centre Michael Jennings, but all three are at risk of missing out, with Panthers giant Josh Mansour and Tigers veteran Pat Richards touted by many as potential replacements. Mansour did sustain a knee injury against the Titans, however, and probably won’t be back in time for Game One.
South Sydney flyer Alex Johnston looms as a bolter, however when you play for the Rabbitohs nearly every game is a big one and he’s acquitted himself superbly – his hopes would receive a massive boost if teammate Dylan Walker earns a call-up in the centres. Don’t rule out the possibility of incumbent centre Michael Jennings being pushed on to the wing either.
The Blues love Josh Morris as he matches up with Queensland’s Greg Inglis better than any of the other options. He’s also recently re-discovered his try-scoring touch, so he’ll be there for sure. Michael Jennings seems a fairly safe bet to fill the other centre position, but it may depend on what Daley wants to do with Josh Dugan, who played two games there last year.
There’s also the option of blooding brilliant Souths young gun Dylan Walker, however he is yet to return from a broken hand sustained back in Round 3. He might be more likely to figure later in the series. Canberra’s Jarrod Croker was a shadow player for Game Three last year and could be an outside chance, as could versatile teammate Jack Wighton.
Expect plenty of heated debate over the next four weeks surrounding the 6 & 7 for the Blues. Incumbents Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson got the job done in 2014 and boast the all-important club partnership Daley prefers, however on current form neither should be anywhere near the Origin team. Adam Reynolds was going gangbusters prior to his injury, but his unavailability means Luke Keary is probably out of the picture.
That brings us full circle to the much-maligned Mitchell Pearce. His club form has been mostly outstanding since he was stood down from last year’s series, and the fact he missed out for disciplinary reasons rather than form issues also works in his favour. Based solely on recent form, he’s the clear-cut choice, however the mixed fortunes of Roosters teammate James Maloney could throw a spanner in the works. Defence continues to be an issue for him, and few will forget the job Maroons enforcer Sam Thaiday did on him in the 2013 series.
Should the Blues opt for Pearce but not Maloney, further options at five-eighth include Newcastle’s Jarrod Mullen or the Titans’ Aiden Sezer. They could also get creative and slot Dugan or Moylan here, and even Greg Bird has been mentioned as a possibility, along with rookie namesake Jack Bird of Cronulla, which would be a massive story if it unfolded, but in all likelihood it will be either the Roosters duo or the out-of-sorts Bulldog boys.
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Nick Fray, Origin Online