Thursday, 12 May 2022

Predicted NSW Blues Game 1 Team - 2022 State of Origin Series

Published May 12, 2022 
At approximately 8pm last night, the countdown to the kickoff of the 2022 State of Origin Series hit the four weeks to go mark.
For the first time in what seems like an eternity, New South Wales will play an Origin game in NSW, with Game 1 set for Wednesday June 8 at Stadium Australia.
The Blues haven't played at home since Game 2 2020 and that was with a restricted crowd during the first wave of COVID forcing that series to be played in November. We have to go back to Game 3 2019 for the last time NSW played in front of their home crowd in mass numbers.
That's pretty much 3 years.
On the other hand, since that decider in 2019, Queensland have been handed four of the last six games as home games, with a sojourn to Adelaide in 2020 the only other match not played in QLD.
But enough facts, let’s throw out some predictions.
With New South Wales set to name their Game 1 team later this month, it’s time for NOT The Footy Show host Warrick Nicolson to have his first attempt at picking the side he thinks NSW coach Brad Fittler will take into camp for the June 8 fixture.
James Tedesco (c).
He's the captain, he's still very much in the conversation for best player in the world and Tom Trbojevic carves up at centre. Look Ryan Papenhuyzen is a heck of a player but he's not taking Teddy's spot - and now injury looks set to rule Papy out of a spot on the bench. If the worst happens and both Teddy and Tommy get hurt in the next month, you'd expect Clint Gutherson might get the call.

Josh Addo-Carr and Brian To'o.
This will be the pairing, end of story. JAC hasn't been great in 2022 adjusting to a new world of less than stellar ball and a team getting beaten most weeks, but he's going to be on the wing... it's just a matter of if To'o plays on the left or right per Freddy's preferred setup. Last year To'o played left and the Foxx played on the right. Backup options (some according to Freddy) look to be Daniel Tupou, Nick Cotric, Alex Johnston and a converted centre from the options listed below (Crichton, Graham and Lomax).

Tom Trbojevic and Kotoni Staggs.
Tommy is fit again and will play either left or right, depending on what Freddy does with filling the second centre spot that the injury to Latrell Mitchell opened up. 
Kotoni Staggs is the front-runner as Fittler is an unabashed fan and he is fit right now, but there is a bunch of players that could come into contention if Staggs doesn't set the world on fire the next few weeks. Stephen Crichton has been in the mix the last two years and has quietly been very good for Penrith to open 2022, Campbell Graham was part of the extended squad last year, and Siosifa Talakai made headlines a couple of weeks ago for good reason. Zac Lomax would certainly do a job if called on but it doesn't feel like he's really a contender, and the same goes for Bradman Best and Penrith rookie Izack Tago. So I don't think Freddy goes with Crichton or Graham ahead of Staggs for Game 1... but if Staggs is poor in the opener I can see there being a change (even if Mitchell is not available) with Crichton or Graham coming in, but right now it is Staggs's gig. Edit: Matt Burton may yet be half a chance, especially if Fittler decided to play To'o on the left edge - as those two played next to each other in 2021 at Penrith.
Update Monday May 16: During the Storm-Panthers game Fittler made special mention of how good Crichton is going and that his ability to play centre, winger and fullback made him very appealing at Origin level. Staggs was ok in Brisbane's win over Manly, but he wasn't a standout despite the 38-0 scoreline and Crichton played well in Penrith's win over Melbourne. Advantage Crichton.

Jarome Luai.
He's been good in 2022 but certainly not at his best. He's let some arrogance really seep into his game to the extent he's getting a little dirty when defending. Now Jarome you are just too good a footy player to keep doing that without someone landing one on your chin - so cut it out please. Luai teams with Nathan Cleary again at Origin level and that's just gravy for NSW fans. Forgotten man at rep level Luke Keary, Mitchell Moses, Jack Wighton and Cody Walker would be the logical backups.

Nathan Cleary.
Great footballer who is going to get better on the Origin stage this year. He missed Game 3 last year through injury and that cost the Blues a chance to clean-sweep the Series so expect him to be on a mission to not only win the 2022 Series but take it out 3-0. He's that driven. Backups include last year's Game 3 'here's your token game' halfback Moses, Keary and Adam Reynolds. For the record had NSW not been up 2-0 last year, I think Reynolds may have got the Game 3 assignment ahead of Moses... but Freddy gave Moses a go. If NSW faced a must-win game without Cleary this series... my gut says you go with Keary or Reynolds but that's just me. 

Junior Paulo and Daniel Saifiti.
They would have been the Game 2 and Game 3 starters last year had Saifiti not missed the decider. They combine to give Fittler what he wants in the middle to open Origin games - power with the ball and great defence. Jake Trbojevic and Payne Haas will be the bench middles in what is a pretty fantastic prop rotation. Dale Finucane was called in for Game 3 last year but he won't force his way in here and Stefano Utoikamanu won't likely have the games on the board to really coming into reckoning after injury. Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Moses Leota and maybe even David Klemmer would be the possible backup options if Fittler went for genuine props on the bench, but he does have a bunch of backrowers who could do a job in the middle to choose from as well (like Jake Trbojevic).

Damien Cook.
His matchup with Harry Grant is going to be one of the highlights of the 2022 Series. Api Koroisau may not get another chance with Fittler after his off-field indiscretion in camp last year, so that leaves Blayke Brailey, Reece Robson and maybe even Tom Starling on the verge of a drastic rookie call up if anything happens to Cook. NSW may have to make up with Koroisau out of necessity if so, in what would be a very very Rugby League kind of move...

Second Rowers
Cameron Murray and Liam Martin
Tariq Sims was there for all 3 Origins last year with Tyson Frizell out injured through the 2021 Series, but it is hard to see him retaining this spot even if Murray isn't fit for Game 1. Liam Martin looks set to take one starting spot regardless of the shoulder injury to Murray, and although Angus Crichton's presence on the bench last year makes him the front runner to replace Murray - the likely omission of Sims as well means there is possibly an open spot for not only Frizell, but young guns like Keaon Kolomatangi and Haumole Olakau'atu. The Blues are spoilt for choice on the edge right now, and yet 12 months ago Fittler found himself with the serious question of 'who can we manufacture next to Murray and Yeo in the backrow?' 
Backups include Ryan Matterson (who is playing as a middle right now for Parramatta), Tevita Pangai Junior (extremely unlikely), and Sims at this stage.

Isaah Yeo
Locked and loaded, he's vital at giving Cleary and then Luai, time and space with the ball at Penrith so he's playing 13. Victor Radley has been good and not so good in 2022, so he's not looking like a must pick for a bench spot, let alone being the backup choice behind Yeo at lock. In fact, you'd imagine if fit, Murray would shift here if Yeo missed for any reason, with Radley and Jake Trbojevic next in line after that.
Backups include Frizell (plays his best at lock at Origin I think), Crichton, and Matterson. Due to the depth in the NSW backrow there's just no real shot for Nathan Brown, or even the forgotten man Sims you feel.

Nicho Hynes, Payne Haas, Jake Trbojevic, Angus Crichton. 
(Extras: Jack Wighton, Keaon Kolomatangi, Victor Radley, Stephen Crichton)
Hynes will get the bench utility gig now Papenhuyzen is injured and likely to miss Game 1 and maybe Game 2 - and why you didn’t see his name in the backups above. He is going to be in the team and it’s going to be right here. Hynes has been everything Cronulla dreamed he would be and can play fullback, three-quarters, halves and hooker - so as I say, he's in Freddy's 17 already. His biggest threat would have been Papenhuyzen or even Jack Wighton - but he has been MIA in too many games this year to genuinely keep his bench spot ahead of Hynes. That’s said I expect Wighton to be 18th man, with Stephen Crichton, Kolomatangi and Radley also making the extended squad. 
Haas and Trbojevic will be the bench prop rotation for sure and certain (injuries aside) and Angus Crichton will get the final spot here if Murray is fit. Should Murray miss, then the gut says Radley or Kolomatangi get called up to the bench with Crichton joining Martin the second row.
So the Game 1 lineup I think Brad Fittler will pick is:
  1. James TEDESCO (c)
  2. Brian TO'O
  3. Kotoni STAGGS
  5. Josh ADDO-CARR
  6. Jarome LUAI
  7. Nathan CLEARY
  8. Daniel SAIFITI
  9. Damien COOK
  10. Junior PAULO
  11. Cameron MURRAY
  12. Liam MARTIN
  13. Isaah YEO
  14. Nicho HYNES
  15. Payne HAAS
  16. Jake TRBOJEVIC
  17. Angus CRICHTON
  18. Jack WIGHTON
  19. Victor RADLEY
  21. Stephen CRICHTON
That's a very handy footy team, 3-0 NSW anyone?

NOT The Footy Show will record a Podcast getting Robb Cox's picks for the NSW side in the next week or so.
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