Since the Brad Fittler era began in 2018, the Blues have enjoyed a period of success not seen since his playing days. New South Wales have won the series in three out of four years, with the coach showing no qualms about chopping and changing his team when he needs to.
Only James Tedesco and Damien Cook have featured in all 12 matches under Fittler, and with such a propensity for change, there’ll always be some team selections that are questioned.
On the Queensland side of things, a problem of having too much depth is relatively new.
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From relying on simply whomever was available over the last couple of seasons, the resurgence of both the Cowboys and Broncos as well as the form of players at other clubs means they’ve got plenty of options – and some excellent players have missed out, as a result.
Here’s a look at a few snubs from either state who could well have been suiting up for the game next Wednesday.
Campbell Graham (NSW)
The 22-year-old Rabbitohs centre has been one of the few shining lights in what has been a disappointing season for Souths, he failed to get the nod ahead of Kotoni Staggs, Jack Wighton or Stephen Crichton for a place in the Blues squad.
While Staggs has made more one-on-one tackles and his defensive play in general has improved rapidly since the start of the season, Graham is well clear in terms of tackling efficiency, miles ahead for both metres and post-contact metres in attack, and has scored more tries and set up more as well.
Stats aren’t everything, of course – but Graham’s height could also have allowed him to switch with winger Brian To’o late in tackle counts during goal line sets (Fittler’s logic for picking Daniel Tupou was related to aerial ability, after all), and he has been around the camp before.
The other possibility is that with the knowledge that Latrell Mitchell will likely return for game two, Fittler didn’t want to blood either Crichton or Graham in that spot only to drop them a game later – whereas he trusts utility man and Origin veteran Jack Wighton to do the job as stopgap.
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Whatever the reasoning, the 22-year-old was unlucky to miss out this time, but should get a chance in the future.
Murray Taulagi (QLD)
A couple of years ago, with the form he’s in, the 23-year-old Cowboys winger would have probably strolled into this team.
But as it stands, Queensland’s cup runneth over with outside backs, and the Cowboys flyer will have to be content with a spot in the extended squad behind the likes of Selwyn Cobbo and Xavier Coates.
This one isn’t so much a ‘snub’ as it is a case of victim of circumstance. Taulagi has had an excellent start to the season with some eye-popping highlights, plays with Valentine Holmes at club level, and is capable of filling in elsewhere in the backline in the event of injuries.
David Klemmer (NSW)
It’s not entirely clear why the Newcastle prop went from being a walk-up starter for New South Wales to persona non grata, but regardless, he’s now been absent from the Blues set-up for three seasons.
It’s not like his club form has suffered – the Knights may be a club in crisis right now, but Klemmer remains a consistent performer, week in, week out.
It beggars belief that a forward who averages between 150 and 170 metres per game, hits hard in defence, and has shown that he can perform at the Origin level, can’t get a look in. But for whatever reason, the 28-year-old remains on the outer.
Jai Arrow (QLD)
Another Rabbitoh who has exceeded expectations this year, Arrow has arguably been Souths’ best forward this year, particularly when you factor in the games Cameron Murray missed due to injury.
Arrow has the versatility to play on the edge or in the middle, is 26 and in the prime of his career – and as he’s named on the extended bench, may yet feature in the series.
But as it stands, dropping the former Titan seems harsh, albeit that he carries the scars of a bubble breach during last year’s Origin series.
Harry Grant (QLD)
Yes, he’s playing and yes, he wouldn’t play 80 minutes regardless, but Melbourne’s star hooker being shunted to the bench, injury concerns be damned, seems like a misstep.
If he’s fit enough to come on at dummy half after however many minutes, he’s fit enough to start – and particularly last year, when you factor that NSW had games one and two sewn up within half an hour or so, starting strongly is vital.
This isn’t meant as a slight to Ben Hunt, who has shown he’s up to the No.9 role at this level and arguably should have been picked at halfback ahead of Daly Cherry-Evans. But Grant is a genuine gamebreaker who should be able to influence the outcome as soon as possible.
Josh Addo-Carr (NSW)
The Fox’s case is a curious one – he hasn’t suffered any sort of clear decline in form since moving from the Storm to the Bulldogs, and had featured in all 12 games under Fittler until this point.
The obvious change is that he’s gone from being the beneficiary of the potent Melbourne backline to a Canterbury attack that often struggles – but does this set a worrying precedent?
Addo-Carr, and to a lesser extent Matt Burton, would both likely be involved in this squad, if not the team itself, were they still at their 2021 clubs. Instead, neither is getting a sniff.
We want the NRL to be competitive, and we don’t want the same teams to dominate year-after-year. But if two of the game’s stars can go to one of the competitions also rans and suddenly lose the opportunity to play rep football, why would others follow suit in the future?
Fittler, for the record, said it’s more to do with Daniel Tupou being a better aerial player – which is fair – but he had no issues picking Addo-Carr for all three games, for four years running, when he wore a Storm jumper.
Corey Oates (QLD)
The Corey Oates renaissance has been something to behold in 2022, at either end of the field.
Coates is the incumbent and hasn’t had a bad season, and will certainly not let Queensland down. But in terms of 2022 ability, particularly when you factor in what’s most important at the state level, Oates is easily clear.
The 27-year-old is averaging 180 metres a game, and his ability to get yardage would be vital in Origin – for comparison, Coates is averaging roughly half as many metres per game, and in terms of post-contact yardage, it isn’t even close, with Oates easily doubling his former teammate.
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