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ORIGIN | A case for changing the NSW halves

Matt Pritchard takes a look at the different options New South Wales have at their disposal with Origin selection not too far away.

A little over twelve months ago Brad Fittler was dealing with a conundrum. Would he keep the same New South Wales Origin side that had failed to win the 2017 series, or would he look towards the future? At the time Fittler suggested that James Maloney would need to improve his game to be considered for selection. After twelve rounds last year the Panthers sat at the top of the table after a huge win over the Dragons at Panthers Stadium in a Saturday night top of the table clash. Maloney and his halves partner Nathan Cleary won selection as the preferred halves selection for the Blues.

Twelve months on, the Panthers languish at the bottom of the NRL ladder after eight rounds and the combination seems to have stalled with the club second worse in points scored. Fittler now has a selection headache. Does he retain the incumbent pairing who are struggling to fire shots at the opposition or does he pick on form and look towards the future like he did twelve months back?

The halves selection will be crucial to whether New South Wales can retain the State of Origin title and will begin as firm favourites to take out the series which starts in just five weeks from now according to State of Origin Odds.

Here’s a look at the best options for the Blues 2019 campaign.

James Maloney

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Pro’s

The incumbent Origin halves option. With his previous big game experience, James Maloney steered the baby Blues to the 2018 title. Out of all the options on the table, Maloney’s kicking game will be key to the Blues getting out of trouble. This year he’s high up on the rankings for kicks and kick metres and has five try assists to his name. Maloney also is not afraid to take on the line.

Con’s

Maloney has been clearly frustrated with the Panthers performances on-field as they head into round 9 with two wins and six losses. Fittler will be looking towards to the future with Maloney to turn 33 during the Origin series. One cannot look past the discipline problems and being one of the most heavily penalised players in the competition.

Verdict

The kicking game may be just enough to keep the veteran in the Blues side.

Nathan Cleary

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Pro’s

The incumbent Origin halves option. Holds his own in defence and not afraid to take on the line. At 21, Cleary has the ability to be New South Wales’ long term option in the halves and will mature as a player over the next couple of years.

Con’s

As with Maloney, the Panthers side aren’t firing with the way they were at this time last season. With their attack stifled, it’s an easy option for Fittler to look at other options. Seems to have taken a back seat to his kicking game with Maloney taking the bulk of responsibility.

Verdict

Despite having age on his side, Cleary’s short-term future in the Blues jumper is under threat.

 

Luke Keary

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Pro’s

Current Premiership winning half and last year’s Clive Churchill Medallist, Luke Keary has continued on in 2019 with his form, leading the way with twelve try assists in the opening third of the NRL season. The way Keary has learnt his trade from Cooper Cronk over the past twelve months has put him in a prime position to be the Blues first selected halves option. With the Roosters sitting at the top of the table and James Tedesco, Latrell Mitchell and Boyd Cordner guaranteed selection, it makes perfect sense to bring Keary into the fold.

Con’s

One thing that could be against Keary is that he doesn’t take on the line as much as Cleary and Maloney. When the Blues are in trouble, will he take the heat off the forwards? The kicking game may not be as strong as Maloney.

Verdict

Luke Keary’s commitment to New South Wales back in 2017 will pay dividends when Brad Fittler names his side for game 1.

Mitchell Pearce

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Pro’s

Mitchell Pearce has come into contention showing vintage form in the first eight rounds of the National Rugby League season. His excellent performance against the Eels a fortnight ago was followed up with a solid effort in Auckland last Sunday against the Warriors. Pearce is keen to return to the Blues jersey having represented the state between 2008 to 2017.

Con’s

Pearce struggled to bring his club form to Origin level and was seen as a weak link during the Queensland domination of the series. Does picking the Knights half at thirty years of age go against Fittler’s policy of looking towards the future?

Verdict

New South Wales unlikely to take a risk with Mitchell Pearce.

 

Mitchell Moses

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Pro’s

There’s little doubt that Parramatta’s on-field success has come down to the form of Mitchell Moses. He is equal third on the try assists alongside Clint Gutherson with nine and his organisation of the side has seen the Eels jump from 2018 wooden spooners to fifth after eight rounds. The ability to play number nine also is an advantage. At 24, fits the Fittler brief of looking beyond 2020.

Con’s

Moses is untested at Origin level. The issue is whether Moses could deal with a pressured situation on the big stage. He also could be a liability in defence. In 2019, Moses has missed 24 tackles, compared to Maloney’s 28.

Verdict

Mitchell Moses’ game is improving, but may need to wait another year to make his debut.

 

Jack Wighton

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Pro’s

Could be the smokey selection for New South Wales in 2019. Wighton has been super impressive in his switch from fullback to five-eighth and the stats show this. In his first eight matches, Wighton has been prepared to take on the line and has made 21 tackle bursts. One of the surprises has been a good general kicking game. The ability to switch positions to fullback is a good strength to have.

Con’s

Wighton is still developing his game at five-eighth and hasn’t been tested at Origin level. After playing at fullback, still learning to defend in the line. So far he’s made nineteen errors, the most of any player in the opening rounds of the National Rugby League.

Verdict

Brad Fittler will be keeping a close eye on how Wighton adjusts to playing five-eighth in 2019, but might be a couple of years off Blues selection.

 

Editor of nothingbutleague since site inception in 2013. Massive Penrith Panthers fan (Member 13120). Email: mattpnbl@outlook.com

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