While the 2018 #NRL Pre-Season is still a few weeks away, there's a bunch of warm-up clashes happeni...
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With just a week out from Coach Laurie Daley naming his game one team, we take a look at how the Blues are shaping up. Who should get picked and who appears most likely?
Here is the team I would take in to the field of battle, with Daley's likely squad listed below.
1. JAMES TEDESCO - After making his long awaited Origin debut in last year's game three dead-rubber, the man they call Teddy deserves to retain the number one jersey. Has only touched down for the one try this year and his three try-assists are down on last year, but it's fair to say there's been a bit going on at Tiger land. His average 162 running metres and 66 tackle busts indicate he's still putting plenty of effort in and should thrive being put back alongside the elite players at Origin level.
2. JARRYD HAYNE - Looks set for a recall for his first Origin series since helping the Blues lift the shield in 2014. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then and he's in no way close to the form that saw him win a Dally M Medal that year, but there's no denying his ability to rise on the big stage. In 20 Origin appearances including 13 on the wing he's never let his state down. His main focus will be to help the Blues coming out of trouble, but don't be surprised if he's given a license to roam around the field at different times.
3. JACK BIRD - There's every chance Bird will be retained as the bench utility, but this kid is ready to rock and roll for 80 minutes at Origin level. Plays the game as tough as any young player in recent memory, as evidenced by his Grand Final heroics last year. Does a tremendous job coming out of trouble, has a natural instinct for the game and the ability to create something out of nothing. I'd even be looking for him to shift closer to the action as the game wears on.
4. JOSH DUGAN - In a bid to prove his fitness after suffering a cheekbone fracture playing for the Kangaroos in the Anzac Test. Played a limited role for the Blues last year due to injury, but prior to that has proven himself to be a big match player built for this arena. Looking more and more comfortable in the centres at representative level and his big athletic frame will be sure to cause the Maroons defenders plenty of trouble out wide.
5. DAVID NOFOALUMA - Has bolted into contention for the Blues this year after a number of standout performances for the struggling Tigers on the right flank. Along with his average 166 running metres, he leads the competition for both offloads (32) and tackle busts (68). Stats are one thing, but his game just seems ideally suited to Origin football. His low to the ground running style and raw strength sees him having a pinball type effect on defenders with every carry. Would be invaluable coming out of trouble and would pose a major threat coming through the middle as Queensland's forwards begin to tire.
6. WADE GRAHAM - The more I looked for someone who's name wasn't Mitchell Pearce (Daley's likely pick) to partner Maloney in the halves this year, the clearer it became plenty have shown promise but none had done enough to earn selection. For this reason, the Blues should be looking to play more to their strengths and with numerous amounts of depth in the forwards, handing Graham the number six jersey isn't as crazy as it sounds. No stranger to the position after coming through the juniors and playing the early part of his career there, Graham has all the attributes with a classy set of hands and a handy left foot boot. Wouldn't have to change his game a whole lot, essentially he'd be just an extra edge back-rower playing a touch wider and it wouldn't be for the whole game either. I'd look to start him there before bringing Peachey off the bench at left centre and moving Bird closer to the action after the opening 30 minutes or so, leaving Graham to shift back into the back-row.
7. JAMES MALONEY - Plays most of his football in the number six jersey, but showed he can handle halfback with his man of the match performance there for the Blues in game 3 last year. Takes on a lot of the responsibility of controlling the play anyway whilst always posing a constant threat when choosing to dummy and go himself. There's no secret now, success seems to follow the Roosters and Sharks premiership winner. Following his best game in Sky Blue last year, Coach Daley will be looking for him to leave a massive mark on this year's series.
8. AARON WOODS - Appeared set to miss the opening game of the series and possibly the second with a hamstring tear, but with word coming out over the weekend his recovery is ahead of schedule, he should be given every chance to prove his fitness. Aiming to return against the Broncos on Friday night but even if he can't get some match fitness in this week, his emergence as the Blues forward leader over the last two years should see his name on Daley's team sheet with an extra forward named as cover.
9. NATHAN PEATS - After a strong showing for the Rabbitohs last Friday night, there's every chance Robbie Farah has done enough in Laurie Daley's eyes to retain his jersey. But with a changing of the guard over the last two series where a number of strong but aging players have been moved on, now is the time for the same scenario to apply to the number nine jersey. Names like Cameron McInnes and Damien Cook have been mentioned, but Peats has been knocking on the door for a couple of years and deserves first crack. Sharp out of dummy half and a noted leader of line-speed in defence, the Titans rake would be charged with bringing his defensive unit off the line and getting in the Maroons faces.
10. DAVID KLEMMER - Coming off the bench in the past two series, Klemmer has provided an impact for his state on each occasion. After a solid Test Match starting up front for the Kangaroos in which he helped lay a solid platform, he looks set to earn his run-on debut for the Blues where he can wreak havoc from the opening whistle.
11. BOYD CORDNER © - After earning his run-on debut in last year's series opener in which he scored the opening try on his way to earning the Blues player's player award, Cordner missed games 2 and 3 through injury. Since then, has stamped himself as a regular at Test level and has proven to be a strong leader for the Roosters. Leads with his actions, taking numerous tough carries and does a tremendous job taking the ball back in behind the ruck with his strong and physical running style. As an 80 minute back-rower, looks the obvious choice as captain moving forward.
12. JOSH JACKSON - Stamped himself as the Blues right edge back-rower through last year's series earning the Brad Fittler Medal for the Blues best player in the series. Did a tremendous job in defence racing up and taking time away from Thurston, limiting his chances to attack. Apart from being a strong defender, he runs the ball hard, can hit a hole and has the nous to promote the ball to his outside men when the time comes.
13. JAKE TRBOJEVIC - The experience he gained from being involved in the extended squad for game three last year looks set to be called upon with the Manly lock ready for his state debut. Went on to represent his country at the end of last year and featured for the Kangaroos off the bench in the Anzac Test recently. By now everyone knows how good his tackle technique is, but good luck being able to do anything about it when he's in front of Maroons ball runners ready to chop them in half. Also has a subtle passing game, putting Brother Tom through gaps in the middle of the park a number of times this year. It's a shame Tom won't be making his debut alongside him after picking up ankle and knee injuries on the weekend, but names like Tedesco and Hayne will be ready to take advantage of any gaps he can create.
14. TYRONE PEACHEY - His ability to cover any number of positions on the park is now well known, but the influence he continues to have on games no matter where he enters the fray continues to amaze. As mentioned earlier, I'd have him earmarked to enter the game at left centre when he comes on where he has played the majority of his football over the last 12 months. His dummy half running would be an asset coming out of trouble and having him fresh on the park when the Queensland pack tires would make him a real X-Factor capable of turning the game on its head.
15. TYSON FRIZELL - Announced himself as an Origin player for years to come when finally being handed his debut in game two last year. Scored tries in both games he played last year, but will long be remembered for his long chase on Maroons flyer Gagai where he almost saved a try. Packs plenty of punch when running the footy and has the ability to get an offload away in traffic. Provides the versatility off the bench of playing through the middle or on an edge.
16. ANDREW FIFITA - Has been strong for the Sharks again this year without being spectacular. Always a strong carrier of the ball who can bump and offload, Fifita was recalled to the Australian Test team recently where he put on a strong showing up front. His Grand Final performance and match winning try last year will go down in rugby league folklore, but that's where Coach Daley needs to set the bar for Fifita this year. Now with 7 Origins under his belt he should be bringing his destructive best to this arena.
17. PAUL VAUGHAN - A major reason to the Dragons form resurgence this year, Vaughan burst onto Laurie Daley's radar with a devastating opening month of football. Has maintained the rage ever since, leading the way up front for his team week in week out as well as being a threat when given the ball close to the line. Was dominant against a tough experienced Sharks pack for the second time this year on the weekend to firm for selection even more.
18. JARROD CROKER - Knocking on the door for a number of years now, Croker was reportedly firmly in the mix for national colours recently and looks the ideal man to provide cover for Dugan's injury. Not the flashiest going round, but has an uncanny knack of beating off defenders and is top notch at setting up his wingers for tries. Always reliable and would be ready to do a job if called upon.
19. REAGAN CAMPBELL-GILLARD - If Woods can't get on the park this weekend, Coach Daley will need to bring in cover for his forward leader. I'd be looking at some more aggressive fresh blood into the Blues pack, probably off the bench with Fifita or Vaughan starting. The young Panthers bookend plays with plenty of intensity, often coming up with some fearless and high-paced charges into the defensive line. Also has shown the capability to get up off his line quickly to make his mark in defence.
2. Jarryd Hayne
4. Josh Dugan
8. Aaron Woods
9. Robbie Farah
10. David Klemmer
11. Boyd Cordner ©
12. Josh Jackson
13. Jake Trbojevic
14. Jack Bird
15. Tyson Frizell
16. Andrew Fifita
17. Wade Graham
18. Josh Morris
19. James Tamou