NSW selectors must ditch the playbook and pick on instinct
Two major events loom large on the rugby league horizon. On May 23, the first Origin match of 2012 will be played in Melbourne. But before that, and just as keenly anticipated, comes the NSW team selection.
It’s a game unto itself. A week from now, Bob Fulton, Bob McCarthy and Geoff Gerard will sit down and no doubt do the dumb thing they always do, which is picking guys they believe to be “Origin style players”.
Talk about an urban myth. I have watched every Origin match since 1980 through goggles tinted deep blue, and here’s what I’ve seen. Queensland players who star in the NRL also excel at Origin. There really is no magic success formula beyond that.
Yet somehow, this basic maroonprint is seen as too simplistic by NSW selectors. Year after year, they turn simple times-tables into algebra, painstakingly choosing “reliable” players, while blokes in great form get left on the sidelines.
Two years ago they wouldn’t pick Paul Gallen for the first match. The brutal, tireless forward, who is now the incumbent NSW skipper, was seen as dispensable, despite being in the prime of his career. Queensland players were privately incredibly relieved he wasn’t playing and duly won the series 3-0.
Coaches always talk about defence being crucial in big games. They note carefully the “one per centre” plays, the things fans don’t notice because their eyes are on the ball, not the stuff behind play.
Well, this fan can’t help noticing that Queensland always seem to score more tries than NSW because they threaten the line more. In the last six years, they have scored 368 points overall to NSW’s 269. That’s an extra 16.5 points per series, or almost a converted try per game.
How do you think NSW is going score the extra two tries it needs per game to reverse Queensland’s dominance? Reckon stodgy blokes who pledge to give their all for their state are the answer? With respect to dour, honest tryers everywhere, neither do I.
What’s the point of players who can hang on for grim death if there’s no one to spark something when the team has the ball? New South Wales needs livewires. We need unpredictable footballers, and if they happen to come in the package of an unpredictable character, well so be it.
Let me take you back to June 26, 2000. NSW had won the first two Origin games and in game three, they put on an exhibition. They won 56-16, the biggest margin in Origin history.
NSW had playmakers coming out their ears that day. They had Brad Fittler and Brett Kimmorley in the halves, with the creative Geoff Toovey, who was really a halfback, at hooker. And get this. Andrew Johns was on the bench, as Kimmorley was mystifyingly then considered a superior number seven.
Queensland didn’t know where to look. I was six rows back from the sideline that night, and NSW came at the maroons from all angles. They literally had no idea how to stop wave after wave of blue attack.
Now, admittedly, NSW don’t currently have the depth of playmaking talent to match that 2000 team. But they do have unbelievably talented and creative players who’ve been overlooked for the bulk, if not all, of the current six year Queensland dynasty.
Haters gonna hate, but Tigers skipper Robbie Farah has to be the hooker. He runs from dummy half, his left foot grubbers are things of beauty, his passing game is sublime and he can nail field goals in clutch situations, as he did on Saturday night against the Titans.
Todd Carney has to be the five-eighth. Jamie Soward is solid, reliable and occasionally brilliant but Carney is a freak. So too is Penrith’s Michael Jennings. Forget the Panthers centre’s penchant for a not-so-quiet tipple. If his shoulder’s even half right, he is the man who can turn half gaps into tries.
Brett Stewart must be the fullback. Anthony Minichiello has served NSW admirably but he’s not getting any younger and Stewart is the nearest thing we’ve got to Billy Slater.
Jarryd Hayne must be selected on the wing. No matter that he’s a fullback and occasional five-eighth at club level. He’s always done his best work at Origin on the wing and he simply must be there.
Combine that lot with the strong kicking game of Mitchell Pearce at halfback and a pack of angry, rampaging forwards and NSW will keep Queensland guessing. And that’s what they have to do. They can’t play solid and wait for Queensland mistakes because the maroons will put 20 points on the board while NSW are still waiting.
Obviously, the ideal NSW team will contain some pissheads and social misfits. Good. This is not accounting, it’s rugby league. This is not a mediocre club match where no-mistake footy and completed sets will win the game. This is State of Origin. Something extra is required.
The other week, NSW coach Ricky Stuart said he was sick of copping advice from every man, woman and their dog. Yeah, well we’re sick of losing, Ricky.
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