With less than four weeks until State of Origin I in Brisbane, the intensity over selection is starting to increase – posing a dilemma for the players, especially those whose positions may be in the balance.
The questions will come thick and fast. Who will be the Blues halves? Does Ben Hunt play hooker? Surely Blake Ferguson will be back in the team? Can Josh Maguire get fit in time to do battle?
While the decisions Freddy and Kevie Walters are facing can only be described as difficult, the impact on the individual players’ form and impact on their clubs is a bit harder to comprehend.
If we cast our minds back 12 months and look at the deterioration of Ash Taylor’s performances after missing origin selection it is clear to see how the weight of the annual New South Wales v Queensland clash has on players.
After being pipped at the post by Ben Hunt for the halfback spot, Taylor’s contribution at club level fell away. His usual high level of ability and skillful execution hit reverse and, by his own admission, so did his attitude.
It’s easy to be critical about individual frailty but the dashing of a life’s dream at the last possible moment will always take some managing.
Clubs and players can benefit in the lead up to game one as there is a positive hook that is being dangled.
Players can draw attention to themselves through outstanding form, particularly when incumbents are struggling to find their best.
The benefactors of James Maloney and Nathan Cleary making a late run for the Blues would definitely be the Panthers, who are struggling to find their best form with their halves partnership not clicking of late.
Right now, it’s hard to see how NSW coach Brad Fittler could not select Luke Keary, with Cody Walker also in the race.
The argument that they both are sixes is blown out of the water by Keary’s recent performances playing halfback for the Roosters.
Both players are therefore in a race to secure selection fin their preferred position, with the real test being who can stand up and perform at club level in coming weeks while the spotlight is on them.
The individual that meets this pressure with focused and winning execution will prove they are ready for the scrutiny of state of origin.
Players in line for selection will need to get momentum leading up the three-game series. This is hard for those facing injury interruptions.
For the Maroons, decisions will need to be made about Hunt’s role as half or hooker, perhaps with Moses Mbye on the bench to cover a myriad of positions.
Do Blake Ferguson and Josh Jackson make their return to the NSW fold after a year’s sabbatical? Will Matt Scott, Josh Papalii, Dylan Napa or Joe Ofehengaue miss out at the start of the series?
All these scenarios will be the subject of much discussion in the next three weeks – and this talk has to be screened out by those at the centre of the debates.
These young men are passionate about representing their State, but they cannot get distracted by all the chatter.
If they do, the real risk is that they will be on the sidelines when the teams line up on the first Wednesday in June.