This year the NSW Blues are tasked with one of the most daunting missions in modern sport: stopping the QLD Maroons in State of Origin. The Maroons have dominated a once closely-fought spectacle and have not tasted a series defeat since way back in 2005. With that in mind I think it’s time for a few fresh faces in the NSW team. Gone are seasoned campaigners Anthony Watmough, Mitchell Pearce, Ryan Hoffman and Kurt Gidley. For all the plaudits they receive, none of them has led NSW to a series win. Andrew Fifita and Boyd Cordner are injured so that opens up a couple of spots, while Greg Bird is currently suspended. Without further ado, here is my NSW Blues team for game 1 at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday, May 28:
1.Jarryd Hayne (Parramatta Eels). Gets the nod just ahead of Josh Dugan who is playing well in a struggling Dragons outfit.I hate seeing players picked out of position and a;though he has played well for NSW on the wing in the past, his form at fullback is too good to ignore. I was at Pirtek Stadium on Saturday and he was a marvel to watch. He is in career best form and has earned the fullback role.
2.Brett Morris (St George Illawarra Dragons). Still playing well in a dour Dragons team, Morris is the best winger in the world and needs to play in the position he plays every week.
3.Michael Jennings (Sydney Roosters). Lighting speed and fancy footwork, Jennings is the kind of explosive centre NSW needs. But has played a number of games for NSW now and needs to have a big series.
4.Josh Morris (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs). A wonderful attacking centre with excellent defence, as he showed against the New Zealand Warriors on Sunday.
5.Daniel Tupou (Sydney Roosters). With Hayne’s move to fullback, Tupou gets the wing spot ahead of Manly’s Jorge Tafua. Tupou is in excellent form and played well in the City/Country clash. He has great speed and is terrific in the air.
6.Josh Reynolds (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs). Plays off-the-cuff football, and loves the rough stuff. His ad-lib style could be just what the Blues need. Maloney pays the price for his ordinary 2014 form.
7. Trent Hodkinson (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs). His career looked over a year ago, languishing in the NSW Cup, but has turned it around and is directing the table-topping Bulldogs around with aplomb. His accurate goal kicking is a huge advantage. Pearce should have been dropped three years ago.
8.Paul Gallen (c) (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks). One of the modern-day greats, Gallen has never disappointed at Origin level, and is one of the few Blues players that can hold his head up high during the Maroons’ domination.
9.Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers). Has not played a lot of football recently but is the best hooker NSW has. Like Jennings, he needs a big series to hold his spot for next year as there are a number of young hookers coming through, notably, St George Illawarra’s Mitch Rein who gets his chance from the bench.
10.James Tamou (North Queensland Cowboys) Has played well at this level before and forms a great front row alongside Gallen.
11.Tariq Sims (North Queensland Cowboys). Has yet to taste Origin but is in excellent form and has they type of aggression and mongrel that NSW needs in Bird’s absence.
12.Luke Lewis (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks). Like Farah, has not played a lot of football in 2014, in fact just one game. But he is very reliable and tough, and is one of the few NSW players that has tasted a series win.
13. Trent Merrin (St George Illawarra Dragons). Has great footwork for a forward and likes to offload the ball. He will be a constant threat for NSW and has played well in a disappointing Dragons outfit. Hayne needs to sniff around and look for Merrins’ offloads.
14. Josh Jackson (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs) Has been in great form for a team on top of the ladder and it’s time form was rewarded with Origin selection. Will provide excellent support from the bench.
15.Aaron Woods (Wests Tigers). Has a point to prove after a disappointing campaign last year and will have no trouble staying motivated.
16.Tony Williams (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs). He is a giant of a man and late in the first half, and perhaps for the final 10 minutes he could be a real weapon off the bench.
17.Mitch Rein (St George Illawarra Dragons). The perfect replacement to give Farah a breather, and cover if he gets injured. A real workhorse, he made 50 tackles against a relentless Eels side on Saturday and has added a kicking game to his arsenal.