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5 days ago
NSW coach Craig Bellamy has thrown the `position vacant' sign on all 17 sky blue jumpers ahead of this year's State of Origin series.
Bellamy and Blues selectors have vowed to reward form in picking their squad for the May 21 series opener at ANZ Stadium, NSW looking to avoid a third straight series defeat.
But while the opening game may be more than two months away, the reality is Blues hopefuls have just six more matches to press their claims, with the City-Country sides to be named at the conclusion of round seven.
The Kangaroos team for the Centenary Test against New Zealand will be named at the same time and the vast majority of the NSW side for the opening match will come from players involved in either the Test or City-Country clash.
Much of the focus will centre on the No.6 and No.7 jumpers, but Bellamy said every spot was there for the taking.
"It's wide open (at five-eighth and halfback) - there's no-one that really stands out in those positions, but we've certainly got some talent there to pick from," Bellamy said.
"I'd like to think all positions are up for grabs.
"The last thing I want is guys that have been there the last four or five years expecting just to get in there again.
"Players have got to earn their position and not just expect to be there.
"By earning their position either they've played really well in Origin before or they're playing really well at club level leading up to the first game."
The battle for positions begins at No.1 with incumbent fullback Brett Stewart under pressure from the now fit-again Anthony Minichiello.
It stretches right through to the front row with Brent Kite, Willie Mason, Mark O'Meley, Luke Bailey, Luke Douglas and Brett White all in the mix.
Bellamy has thrown his support behind skipper Danny Buderus, but also acknowledges Wests Tigers livewire Robbie Farah is closing in on the hooking spot.
He admitted the selection at No.9 would be dependant on who won the coveted halves berths, with Farah a possibility should the Blues need more of a creative force at dummy half.
"It's important for those positions that we pick them to complement the other players in our team so we can play a certain style," Bellamy said.
"A certain style of halves or a certain style of dummy half will fit the other players he's got around him.
"I've already had a chat to (the selectors) and they're of the same opinion."
One name which may already be pencilled in for a spot around the scrumbase is Cronulla utility Greg Bird.
Bird played at lock in the Sharks' season-opening win over Manly last week but excelled when handed the pivot role on his Origin debut in last year's dead rubber.
Bellamy said Bird's chances of again winning the No.6 jumper would not be harmed if he remained in the pack in the lead-up to the representative season.
"I don't think it's a whole heap of difference in the way he plays," Bellamy said of the different positions.
"I'm a big supporter of Greg Bird, I think he's a really good player and he did a really good job there last year in the five-eighth spot in the third Origin and for Australia.
"He needs to play well to be in the team, but what he did in that third Origin last year will add a bit of weight to his case."
Bird will have the perfect opportunity to press his claims when he lines up against the Bellamy-coached Melbourne side on Sunday.