Aim: To determine why Anthony Mundine, Nathan Blacklock and David Peachey were not selected for the 1999 Tri-Nations Series.
Dossier of evidence: Peachey began the year best known as an under-achiever. He soon became a key and electrifying component of the Sharks - a team he would lead to a minor premiership. Harshly overlooked for Origin duty, he was however named the Dally M fullback of the year, a runner-up to Andrew Johns for the Rugby League Week player of the year award, and also named one of the five outstanding players of the year in David Middleton?s official NRL yearbook, with Middleton stating ?Peachey stood out with his high level of consistency for the Sharks, despite his omission from senior representative sides. He became widely regarded as the most dangerous attacking fullback in the game, and defensively he rarely put a foot wrong.? Peachey?s omission from the Origin squad only served to improve his form. The setback seemed to fuel his ambition, and he was inarguably the Sharks best player over the closing rounds of 1999 and during the finals. With Darren Lockyer injured, the fullback jumper for the season-ending Tri-Nations series was expected to be handed to Peachey. However, he was once again overlooked by selectors in favour of Melbourne?s Robbie Ross ? a solid if unspectacular player, steady under the high ball and reliable in defence. But in terms of attacking ability, Peachey was in a sphere beyond all fullbacks, Ross included.
Blacklock, in his second season with the Dragons, was vying for a wing spot at the new joint venture along with internationals Rod Wishart and Jamie Ainscough. He quickly became a crowd favourite - courtesy of his happy habit of scoring tries and doing backflips; and also one of the most dangerous attacking weapons in the league, courtesy of his blistering speed and an almost extra-sensory awareness. These tools saw him top the NRL?s tryscoring list with 24 tries from 26 games. He was named in David Middleton?s official NRL yearbook team of the year, and he also won the Dally M winger of the year award, ahead of some more established names like Wendell Sailor, Mat Rogers, Adam McDougall, and selector?s favourites Matt Geyer and Darren Albert ? who both earned NSW selection. Similar to Peachey, the omission had no effect on his form. His tryscoring continued unabated, and he was the equal top tryscorer through the finals series.
Mundine, ever-boastful, and always under self-exerted pressure to perform, achieved the enormous task of silencing his army of critics ? if only for one season. He began the season under pressure from Illawarra?s Trent Barrett, in the battle for the new joint venture?s number 6 jersey. He won that battle, and proceeded to win the war over all opposition five-eighths, earning selection for all three State Of Origin matches. He led the Dragons to the semi finals and grand final, before fate intervened and snatched the Premiership trophy from his grasp. He was subsequently named in David Middleton?s official NRL Yearbook as the five-eighth of the year, with Middleton stating ?Mundine underpinned his abundant potential with a series of scintillating displays during the season, including a three-try effort in the preliminary final against Cronulla?. All three of those tries came in the second half, as the Dragons turned an 8-0 half time deficit into a 24-8 victory, with Mundine?s performance widely regarded as one of the most dominant in years. The selectors were expected to choose two five-eighths for the Tri-Nations series. The incumbent and current Test captain, Brad Fittler was assured of one spot; and with Laurie Daley retiring from representative football after the 1999 Origin series, Mundine was almost universally tipped to win his first Test cap and assume the back-up role. With his speed he offered tremendous utility value, and as such was as close to a certainty as you can get. However, the selectors chose Matthew Johns - who had not played a Test since the Superleague era, did not play in the 99 Origin series, and whose club Newcastle exited in the first week of the finals.
Conclusion: Unfortunately this exercise has been a failure. I am no closer to my aim of determining why they were not selected. But, if I have achieved anything with this essay, I hope I have opened your mind to the deep injustice of this incident, and that you are now asking the same questions I have ever since.