NEW SOUTH WALES coach Laurie Daley has taken a controversial gamble on halfback Mitchell Pearce for this year’s State of Origin series, in what will be Pearce’s sixth-year in the Origin arena.
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But Daley is an astute judge of footballers and has put together NSW sides that have been close to the best available during his previous four years in charge.
While some will lament the return to the dark-past with Pearce’s selection, Daley has taken a fresh approach to incorporating the premiership-winning half.
Bringing in Nathan Peats at hooker over Robbie Farah is the most obvious move in ensuring Pearce takes control of the game, along with the pairing of the former Roosters’ halves Maloney and Pearce.
As Peats is merely a serve-and-run style hooker, Pearce will be able to take control of NSW plays; guiding and pushing the side around the paddock while Maloney chimes-in with his measured, but varied ball playing.
But of Daley’s best selections is his full-frontal back five. Proven try-scorers; explosive attackers; and players who put-simply, know how to break through a defensive line.
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Ferguson, Dugan, Tedesco, Hayne and Morris.
All the weapons in returning halfback Mitchell Pearce’s arsenal.
If this isn’t Pearce’s best chance at Origin redemption, then he will never obtain it.
If the Blues forwards – in particular Woods and Klemmer – can match it with Queensland’s pack and get NSW driving forward, whether it be into attacking position or exposing broken play, then the Fab-Five should run riot.
In 2014, when NSW last won the opening game of a series, Jarryd Hayne and Brett Morris were the only Blues to cross the chalk in a 12-8 victory at Suncorp Stadium.
Despite Cooper Cronk leaving the field early in the game with a broken arm, NSW held their defensive-end to secure a win that proved crucial in securing their first series victory in almost a decade.
Tries are hard to come by at the best of times in a defense-orientated Origin match, and the fact Hayne and Morris were able to grab tries in such a game will have been in the memory-bank of Daley and Blues’ selection advisor Peter Sterling.
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All of the Fab-Five love the big stage, with Hayne and Dugan always rising for the big occasions. Tedesco will feel blessed to leave the rabble of the Wests Tigers’ mess for a few weeks, Ferguson is in red-hot form having nabbed a hat-trick two weeks ago, and Morris is a proven performer and one of the best finishers in the game.
As long as Mitchel Pearce doesn’t try to overplay his role, the Blues are in a rare position of strength across the park and will likely penetrate Queensland’s line for more than what seems the standard two-tries.
Incredibly, the Blues’ bench will have a combative trio of Cronulla Sharks waiting for their crack at the Maroons. Known enemies of the Melbourne Storm after their last few club encounters, you get the feeling the Sharks' players will not be short on motivation.
Space-Jam, Monstar-like Andrew Fifita will look to trigger destruction midway through the first-half, along with handy back-rower Wade Graham.
While the versatile rough-Ace Jack Bird will patiently wait an opportunity to inject his skillset into the contest.
Daley’s taken a punt on some players, no doubt. But his carefully selected a line-up of players that will ensure NSW has the best team it can.
And that’s all that matters, because there is no match where a team-performance is more vital than State of Origin.
While it might be an individual who scores the winning-try or puts on the play-of-the-match, it’s everything that led up to that moment which ensures it comes off.
Everything the team has done; as a group, as a pair, as a left or right edge.
This side’s a gamble, but it’s a calculated gamble.
Blues by 10.