If State of Origin selection had to be written as a mathematical formula it would look something like this:
Form + Performance Under Pressure x Team Mindset = Victory
So let’s break down each part of this formula to see who’s putting up their hands to be picked and the dilemmas being faced by selectors on both sides of the border when the formula is applied to every situation.
It’s probably the most obvious criteria that will decide which names get read out on Monday. So, on the form line who are the walk-up starts for the first clash in Brisbane?
Five-eighths Cody Walker and Luke Keary are neck and neck in the race to be the best players in the NRL right now, but does that mean they both get in the team?
Taking everything into consideration it is possible, but given their mutual antagonism perhaps the third part of the formula – team mindset – is a barrier.
Jake Trbojevic, Josh Papilli and Cameron Murray are the three middles that are having a massive impact on the performance of their teams.
On form they are all likely starters, but selectors will wonder who will perform under pressure. It’s possible this element puts a question mark over the still developing Murray.
PERFORMANCE UNDER PRESSURE
An individual’s ability to deliver on the biggest stage under massive scrutiny is what this element is all about. It will be key to selectors’ deciding who is in and who stays out.
Matt Scott and Michael Morgan have consistently demonstrated their ability to deliver over an extended period for the Maroons, and Nathan Cleary also amazed us with his poise during clutch moments last year.
Does this history get the trio back on the park, or does their current form cost them their spot in the team or the opportunity to play in their favourite position? It’s possible only two out of the three will make it.
Ben Hunt has had a solid start to the season but by recently reliving his kickoff fumble has drawn attention to whether he has the ability to push past pressure moments and ultimately get the Maroons back into the winners circle.
The unique mindset of NSW coach Brad Fittler bought the notion of “team” to the forefront last year – not only by his barefoot training meditations, but also by ensuring all players in the squad did not bring the baggage of the past into the camp.
This proved to be a masterstroke. There was visible unity between the players, with past performances and behaviours no longer an inhibiting factor in the Blues team.
So does this mean that the flawed relationship between Keary and Walker lies outside of Freddy’s standards of kinship, and if so who is the most likely to meet all the other requirements to ensure success?
To pick one of these two, selectors will have to look to the performance under pressure and team mindset criteria and decide who fits in best.
Queensland has its own problems in this area, with Daley Cherry-Evans having his own history of failing to fully embrace the team culture. The Maroons could overlook him, but the other elements weigh strongly in his favour.
Loyalty worked for Queensland for such a long period, with Mal Meninga making changes only when players were not available – indicating that team focus is indeed the strongest part of the formula.
However, last year it may have worked against them with some of the long-serving players not delivering at the required level.
Ultimately, selectors will look for balance in all things.
But balancing on a three legged chair when heading to the toughest rugby league cauldron isn’t an easy task.
The coaches know this and will weigh all the intangibles before taking the best team they can into the arena.
Only then will they know if they got the formula right.
Former St George player Matthew Elliott has coached NRL teams Canberra, Penrith and New Zealand Warriors.