Brad Fittler’s task in picking the New South Wales squad for this year’s State of Origin opener was complicated by a series of stunning performances in a round dominated by Penrith’s big win over St George Illawarra on Saturday night.
James Maloney and Nathan Cleary starred for the Panthers in that 28-2 triumph against the Dragons, a result that sent Penrith to the top of the ladder.
The Dragons entered the match as table-toppers but were well beaten as Cleary, Christian Crichton, Viliame Kikau and Reagan Campbell-Gillard crossed for tries.
But while the logical selection from Fittler would be to pick Maloney and Cleary as his halves pairing, given the fact they play together at club level and are doing so well, he may find it hard to ignore Matt Moylan after his man-of-the-match showing in Cronulla’s 48-10 rout of Newcastle on Sunday.
Moylan set up six of the nine tries the Sharks scored and also had five line-break assists as Cronulla made it six wins in a row and moved up to fourth.
Fittler’s decision at fullback looks easier after James Tedesco scored a try and passed six Gold Coast defenders to set up another as the Sydney Roosters came from behind to beat the Titans 34-14 on Saturday.
The Titans led 14-6 at the break but Tedesco and another player in contention, Latrell Mitchell, were particularly impressive.
A Roosters teammate of Tedesco’s, Blake Ferguson, may be usurped for a wing position by Canberra flyer Nick Cotric.
Cotric picked the perfect time to display his talent, with the 19-year-old crossing for two tries and helping to set up another in the Raiders’ 21-20 win over Manly on Friday evening.
In the most exciting clash of the weekend, the Raiders looked gone with five minutes left, only for Cotric’s kick to help Jack Wighton over for a 75th-minute try.
Jarrod Croker added the extras, levelling scores, before Aidan Sezer’s 79th-minute drop goal sparked wild scenes of celebration.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart urged Fittler to pick Cotric, insisting afterwards “he’s the best winger in the competition”.
“If you’re picking the best wingers in the competition for New South Wales, he’s your first winger picked.”
Another selection headache for Fittler looms at hooker, with Damien Cook and Cameron McInnes vying for the spot.
Cook was again impressive as South Sydney moved to third with a 30-10 win over the New Zealand Warriors on Saturday.
The Burgess brothers were huge for the Rabbitohs, who are starting to emerge as serious premiership contenders.
The problems for Fittler are good ones to have and the NSW boss seems more blessed than his counterpart with a range of key players all in excellent form.
But Queensland coach Kevin Walters will at least have taken heart from Greg Inglis’ dominant showing in the aforementioned South Sydney victory.
Ben Hunt’s spot in the halves for the Maroons, which seemed assured, is now in doubt after he suffered a thigh injury in the Panthers-Dragons clash. Michael Morgan or Daly Cherry-Evans could be called up if Hunt is ruled out.
Walters may be without Matt Scott after he was offered a one-match suspension for a shoulder charge in North Queensland’s one-point loss to Melbourne Storm on Friday night.
Cameron Smith, who returned from suspension to help Storm to a 7-6 victory, retired from representative football earlier this month, meaning Brisbane’s Andrew McCullough should be picked at hooker for Queensland.
The Broncos got lucky in a series of key moments in a 18-10 win over rock-bottom Parramatta on Thursday night, while Wests Tigers finished stronger to beat the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 14-10 in the weekend’s other match.
Queensland will announce its team for the June 6 Origin opener at 10am (AEST) on Monday, with NSW to respond at 6.45pm (AEST).