This week Daniel Ramus takes a look at the NSW Origin line-up for next Wednesday's clash against Queensland, giving his thoughts on each player.
Stay tuned for tomorrow's run-down of the Maroons by Michael Treacy.
1. Brett Hodgson (Wests Tigers): Hodgson wins this spot by default. If Anthony Minichiello was fit, this selection would be a no-brainer. Although Hodgson is clearly the second best fullback in NSW and he won?t let the side down on Wednesday night. However, his opposite, Matt Bowen, has more potential to break the game open.
2. Matt King (Melbourne Storm): Hasn?t been at his best so far this season but with the Storm leading the competition, and his participation in the Kangaroos side which decimated the Kiwis last Friday night, his selection was a straightforward one. With this giant on one wing and the ever-reliable Hodgson at the back, it looks as though Queensland will need to aim their high-kicking game at Timana Tahu?s wing.
3. Mark Gasnier (St George-Illawarra Dragons): The best centre in the game and had to be picked. Will wreak havoc against Queensland if given early ball by Braith Anasta and Craig Gower as well as the opportunity to beat his opposite one-on-one. In doubt with a hip injury. I just wish he?d decide on his future!!!
4. Matt Cooper (St George-Illawarra Dragons): This is a primary example of a selection purely based on reputation. While Cooper is widely regarded as the best defensive centre in the game, his form hasn?t been up to scratch thus far in 2006. His selection in the Australian side for the May 5 Test may have granted him automatic selection for this game but if he doesn?t aim up here, he may be a spectator in game two. Also in doubt with a hamstring injury, could be replaced by Luke Lewis or Eric Grothe.
5. Timana Tahu (Parramatta Eels): People seem to consider Tahu an automatic selection in representative sides. Personally I?ve always felt that Tahu?s hands have often let him down at this level. It?s almost as if he?s had a pre-match ritual to eat buttered crumpets before rep games. Matt Geyer would have been a better choice for mine; he would have also been more reliable under the high-ball.
6. Braith Anasta (Sydney Roosters): We talk about reputation selections, none top this one. Anasta has shown nothing this season at his new club and it?s clear that the selectors have adopted a ?faith in Braith? policy. He hasn?t shown up with his ?A? game thus far in ?06, and he?ll need to do just that next Wednesday night. Will he? We?ll just have to wait and see?
7. Craig Gower (Penrith Panthers): Had to be picked after Andrew Johns decided enough was enough at rep level. Has been in relatively good form this season but has been slightly hampered by a sternum injury which saw him coughing up blood. Needs to control things early in the piece so the out-of-form Anasta can ease his way into the contest.
8. Brent Kite (Manly Sea Eagles): Smart selection here. The selectors could easily have opted for Mark O?Meley in the starting side but he and Willie Mason are similar sorts of players. Kite offers a variety in the pack with his steadying influence, and produces a workman-like performance rather than an impact one. This will enable Mason to go about his business, and O?Meley to come on with his usual fireworks for the Blues.
9. Danny Buderus (Newcastle Knights) ?: First player picked in the Blues line-up. ?Bedsy? is one of the leading players in the NRL and his involvement next Wednesday will be pivotal to the final outcome of the match.
10. Willie Mason (Canterbury Bulldogs): Best forward on either side of the Tweed at the moment. Mason has had an explosive start to season 2006 and is in career-best form. He was formerly regarded as a bench player at representative level but times have changed and the big man is maturing into a superb footballer.
11. Nathan Hindmarsh (Parramatta Eels): Would have been one of the first picked but I?ve always held the belief that Hindmarsh wastes too much of his energy on defence. He?s an asset in attack but we seldom see his attacking prowess, he usually tackles himself to oblivion by about the 30 minute mark. Perhaps with the selection of defenders such as Steve Menzies, Andrew Ryan, and Luke O?Donnell, Graham Murray can tell Hindmarsh to leave some petrol in the tank for when it?s really needed.
12. Steve Simpson (Newcastle Knights): Thoroughly deserves selection after a super-consistent start to 2006. His ability to cart the ball over the advantage line is second to none.
13. Luke O?Donnell (North Queensland Cowboys): Gets a crack at his first Origin after already having played Test football. Will relish the opportunity to shine under club coach Graham Murray.
Bench: This is a bench that covers all angles. Craig Wing is the utility who will come on and wreak havoc around the ruck area. Steve Menzies is the toiler who won?t let anyone down. Mark O?Meley is the hit-man who will terrorise the Queensland forwards once given the opportunity by Graham Murray, and Andrew Ryan will offer plenty in both attack and defence on the edges of the ruck next Wednesday night.