Written by NRL.com Columnist, Mal Meninga
Luke Keary is showing us again this year what a talented rugby league player he is, so I’m putting him in my NSW side for the State of Origin series opener in just over two weeks time.
Keary would be my No.6 and Cleary retained as No.7. They both play left and right for their respective clubs so there’s no real complication there. And on the left Keary links up with Roosters teammates in Boyd Cordner and Latrell Mitchell.
I’m keeping Josh Addo-Carr on the left wing. He is playing great with Storm and he’s a top-line performer. He had an extremely good series last year as well, scoring tries in the opening two games.
I’m leaving James Roberts at right centre mainly due to the pick-and-stick theory that I’ve abided by with most of my rep teams.
He is a dangerous player and he did very well last year. He was back with the Broncos NRL side this week and I reckon he’ll benefit from playing Origin, even though he might be down a little on club form.
Origin can do some funny things for people but most often, it makes them feel more comfortable.
I’m going with Ferguson outside of Roberts as they will be a very dynamic side for Queensland’s left edge to try to contain. Fergo picks himself really. If he’s playing well he’ll always be in the picture.
I like him as a player and as a person. He’s had his ups and downs, and some conflict with NSW coach Brad Fittler, but he’s an asset to your team, especially when he’s in this kind of form. He’s one of the best wingers in the business.
You need your back three to fire in Origin. It’s important to get off to great starts and these three – James Tedesco, Addo-Carr and Fergo – tick all those boxes.
The NSW pack remains pretty much as it was in Game III last year, but I would make sure Jake Trbojevic starts again at lock and not promoted off the bench. Jake is the best No.13 in the game.
With the Blues bench, I’m shaking it up a bit with three new faces from the final game at Suncorp Stadium last July.
I’d put Victor Radley as my No.14 with three forwards in Matt Prior, who played in Game II, Angus Crichton and Tevita Pangai Jnr. I rate Prior as one of the form props of the competition, and therefore ahead of Reagan Campbell-Gillard presently.
Freddy went with a mobile bench last year so I think he’ll do the same. I feel Tariq Sims is a bit out of form, while Pangai Jnr off the bench would be sensational. Crichton is getting back into top form at the Roosters and that club is at the top of the ladder. That’s why there are six Roosters in my NSW side – they bring that winning culture as well as continuity.
I’ve got Tyrone Peachey and Cameron Murray as my 18th and 19th men. From 1-17 there are five new faces, but only three debutants (Keary, Radley, Pengai Jnr).
Turning to Queensland, I think Daly Cherry-Evans will be right so I’ve put him at No.7. That means Michael Morgan is in the centres with Will Chambers, with Corey Oates and Dane Gagai on the wings, with Kalyn Ponga obviously at fullback following Billy Slater’s retirement.
That will bring Chambers up against Mitchell, while Morgan will be marking Roberts. Those match-ups will be very exciting to see in the scheme of things.
I’ve made a few changes in the Maroons forwards. My props would be Josh Papalii and Dylan Napa, with Ben Hunt as hooker. My back row is Matt Gillett, Felise Kaufusi and Josh McGuire.
For my versatile No.14 I’ve gone Moses Mbye. He can play No.9 or in the halves or at fullback. Then my three bench forwards are Jai Arrow, Joe Ofahengaue and Ethan Lowe. Storm's Christian Welch was in my Maroons team until he was injured on Thursday night.
As with NSW, I have picked a few forwards in better form in my eyes than Coen Hess, Jarrod Wallace or Tim Glasby.
Lowe has had a great year so far with South Sydney and is a handy edge player, who can also kick goals. Ofahengaue and Arrow are in the middle but can also play in the backrow in case an edge goes down.
My 18th and 19th men would be Jake Granville and Wallace. You’ve got to have a spare hooker in there, just in case DCE doesn’t make it through the week. If that was the case then Hunt would go to halfback and Granville into No.9 to cover that base.
Wallace is there for insurance in case a forward goes down through the week. You pick that squad of 19 to give you that extra bit of flexibility in camp. Similar to NSW, there are three debutants (Mbye, Ofahengaue, Lowe) from the five new faces in the 1-17 line-up.
And as I said last week, that while I am the Australian coach there have been no instructions from me to either Freddy or Queensland coach Kevin Walters to put any players in certain positions, so the Kangaroos selectors can have a look at them.
Origin is the stepping stone to the Australian team but the NSW and Queensland selectors have the freedom to choose the players they feel best suit their style of football.
But my captains would be Boyd Cordner for NSW and Matt Gillett for Queensland.