This article was first written and published for the Roar.
Last night the New South Wales Blues announced their squad for Game 1 of the 2019 State of Origin series.
There are five debutants in the squad: Nick Cotric and Jack Wighton from the Canberra Raiders, Cameron Murray and Cody Walker from the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Payne Haas from the Brisbane Broncos.
Players like Luke Keary, Joey Leilua, Adam Reynolds and Mitchell Pearce will be wondering what might have been, with injuries ruling them out.
Nathan Cleary will be breathing a sigh of relief. These injuries only helped his cause for selection, given his average form this year.
Along with the injured players, there are several stars who were unlucky to miss out on selection.
Let’s begin with James Maloney, who was the Blues’ vice-captain last year, but has been dumped for Cody Walker.
One of the raging debates leading into this Origin series was whether Brad Fittler would pick and stick with the same team that won the series in 2018, or whether he would opt to select players based on form.
Sensibly, Fittler has gone for a mix of both.
Penrith have had a very disappointing start to the 2019 season. Plenty have levelled the blame at the feet of their halves. But the truth is that the only Penrith player currently playing better than they did last year is James Tamou.
Perhaps Fittler queried whether picking a halves combination that is struggling to win games together at club level would be able to compete in the Origin arena.
Or perhaps – and rightly so – Walker’s form has been so good that it was impossible for Fittler to leave him out.
The Blues will miss Maloney’s experience in Game 1, and depending on the result, he may be able to fight his way back into contention for Game 2.
RCG hasn’t been the same since he broke his jaw late last season.
Unfortunately, the injury seems to have hurt his confidence and he does not seem as comfortable with contact anymore.
He is another casualty of Penrith’s poor start to the year, but given the 25-year-old’s age, I thought he may have been selected alongside the other young players who will form the nucleus of this Blues squad for the next five to ten years.
Fittler has only selected one prop to come off the bench. I wonder if RCG’s omission will come back to haunt him?
Given some of the players struggling with form and fitness, there was talk Blake Ferguson may have been putting his hand up for a sky blue jersey after the Eels’ strong start to 2019. There was certainly space for him.
But given Parramatta’s recent results – and Ferguson’s form in the last two games – there was no way that Fittler could have selected him. Ferguson played himself out of selection over the past fortnight.
One player who has been selected on the pick and stick mentality is Angus Crichton, who hasn’t improved significantly since his break-out year at South Sydney.
Ryan Matterson, on the other hand, is the player I predicted to be this year’s buy of the season and he has not disappointed thus far, standing out for the Wests Tigers every week.
Matterson should have been selected ahead of Crichton this series.
This was the omission that shocked me the most. I thought Radley was a certainty.
The thing I like the most about Radley is that he is a versatile player and can play a number of roles for Freddie, depending on what’s needed. He can play lock, hooker and could certainly have added some spark towards the end of the half.
Tariq Sims, Jesse Ramien and Tyrone Peachey were also unlucky to miss out.
With the Blues’ squad announced, all eyes turn north of the border to Queensland, where the Maroons will announce their squad tonight.
Just like the NSW squad, the Maroons have also been impacted by injuries to key players. The position of most interest is hooker, with Jake Friend and Andrew McCullough ruled out.
I can’t wait to see who the Maroons pick as their captain. Will they opt for experience and select Matt Scott or look to the future and pick Cameron Munster?
Regardless of who Queensland pick tonight, I like this Blues squad and I’m confident there is enough talent to win the 2019 series.