The NSW Blues have been named for the first game of the 2017 #Origin series.
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THE STONE COLD TRUTH
Newly-appointed coach Rick Stone had 17 players with attitudes that would have been vastly different to what out-going coach Brian Smith had at his disposal since announcing he was leaving the club to take up a lucrative deal at the Roosters.
It would be difficult to quantify, however, I dare say the effort given by the players during three heavy losses would have ranged from a low of around 40 per cent to a maximum of around 80 per cent. It was a recipe for disaster and the results confirmed that. In a team game you only need a handful of players to be down on form to lose, when an entire squad is under-performing you are no hope.
I am sure if the players were asked to give an honest assessment on their own performance, to a man they would admit that they were not fully committed to the task of winning any of those games. For a variety of reasons from a feeling of resentment to abandonment, Smith's decision to leave had a detrimental effect on the players.
The big test for Stone will be coming in the last remaining premiership rounds starting with the Cowboys at Energy Australia Stadium on Saturday night. The emotion of "doing it" for the new coach will have subsided, meaning Stone won't have the luxury of a dramatic lift in performance to help his cause. That once-only phenomenon was produced on Monday night.
Newcastle is a formidable side as proven earlier in the season with comfortable victories over the Dragons, Manly and an in-form Broncos outfit. If they can re-produce that level of performance, than the Knights will be legitimate contenders for the premiership.
NO BULL, DOGS BOUGHT SUPERBLY
In a brilliant display of recruitment the Bulldogs have supplied a mammoth seven players to my Top Ten buys for season 2009.
Brett Kimmorley, David Stagg, Ben Hannant, Bryson Goodwin, Josh Morris, Greg Eastwood and Michael Ennis have played an integral role in lifting the club from wooden spooners in 2008 to one of the premiership heavyweights this year.
The Bulldogs is once again a proud and respected club after ending last season as a complete rabble, unravelling on several fronts
In a remarkable change of fortunes, new Bulldogs coach Kevin Moore has been able to mould his team so superbly that he is at unbackable odds to win the Dally M Coach-of-the-Year award in his rookie season. And the former lower grade halfback and son of the late Peter "Bullfrog" Moore, has achieved his success in the knowledge that many commentators opposed his appointment, feeling the Bulldogs erred in not going outside the club to find a replacement for Steve Folkes.
That argument may have had merit at the time but 12 months down the track, the diminutive coach has displayed all the poise and professionalism that you'd expect from a 10-year veteran. One of Moore's best qualities is his willingness to include input from a leadership group that's headed up by assistant coach Jimmy Dymock, club captain Andrew Ryan and on-field general, Kimmorley.
Joining the Bulldogs' magnificent seven in the Top Ten buys would be Englishman Gareth Ellis at the Tigers who has been a revelation. Ellis is an all-action player who brings quality to a team in both attack and defence.
The final two spots go to Dragons pair Darius Boyd and Jeremy Smith. Boyd may not be the greatest communicator in the NRL but he is a wonderful player who will challenge incumbent Billy Slater for the Queensland fullback position in 2010.
Back playing after missing a big chunk of the season through injury, Smith will be one of coach Wayne Bennett's trump-cards during the finals. He played a starring role for New Zealand in last year's World Cup and Dragon supporters will be looking for more of the same.
THE DOWN UNDER ACHIEVERS
You've got my best buys for the year, now for the recruits who have been major disappointments at their new club.
Heading the list is Cowboys prop Antonio Kaufusi, an International whose has deteriorated to the extent the former Melbourne player is scraping to get on the interchange bench where he is often found sitting next to another under-achiever, Manase Manuokafoa. The man-mountain has been way down on the form he displayed at South Sydney. There is no question that new Cowboy coach Neil Henry would have expected a great deal more from both players.
Kiwi-born Ben Teo arrived at the Broncos from the Tigers hailed as the nearest thing in the NRL to Sonny Bill Williams. And whilst there has been glimpses of brilliance, for the main Teo has shown only a fraction of the ability to that of his more illustrious countryman. Teo says he has no desire to play for his place of birth, preferring to concentrate on making it into the Queensland State of Origin side. Based on his form this year, New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney isn't going to lose any sleep over it and there will be little need for a tailor to take Teo's measurements for a Maroons tracksuit.
The good news for all three players mentioned is they do have the talent and if they fulfil their potential they can have successful careers in the NRL. To be frank, I feel Teo should re-consider his decision to turn his back on New Zealand, as the current World Cup champions are on the verge of a golden era.
The depth of talent within the Kiwi ranks has never been greater and coach Kearney is quietly confident of adding the end-of-the-season Quad Series to last year's World Cup victory. The backline will feature the likes of Sam Perrett, Brent Webb, Manu Vatuvei, Taniela Tuiaki, Bryson Goodwin, Junior Sau, Steve Matai, Jerome Ropati, Benji Marshall and Ben Roberts.
In the forwards, Kearney will be able to choose from such players as Jeremy Smith, Ben Matulino, Simon Mannering. Frank Pritchard, Adam Blair, Jeff Lima, Fui Fui Moi Moi, Isaac Luke, Sam Rapira, Greg Eastwood, Bronson Harrison, David Fa'alogo, Zeb Taia, Nathan Fien and Mark Taufua.