Shocked, dismayed, annoyed, perplexed, amazed, frustrated...these are the feelings that all NSW fans should be feeling this morning after it was revealed last night that Kurt Gidley would remain as incumbent fullback for State of Origin I, keeping 2009 Dally M Player of the Year Jarryd Hayne on the wing.
Hayne (leaving aside my obvious Parramatta bias) is far and away a stronger, faster and more explosive player than Gidley, and has the power and performance to be a game breaker from a roving role at the back. He is a strong defender, safe under the high ball, can add an extra dimension to the Blues kicking game and, with the ball in his hands, has proven to be one of the hardest players in the league to tackle. On the wing he'll merely drift in and out of the game, without any real opportunity to stamp his authority and dictate play. If I was a cane toad I'd be laughing until I wet my pants (which Queenslanders often do) after hearing that NSW has shunted their best attacking weapon out to the sideline.
Unfortunately this type of decision making by NSW selectors is par for the course. In the 1980's, when NSW was struggling to contain the QLD juggernaut, the selectors would consistently move Brett Kenny into the centres as a way of accommodating other players. QLD Origin great Gene Miles has been quoted as saying that every time Kenny was picked in the centres they were confident of a victory such was their respect for his abilities. As a centre they felt they could better contain his effectiveness. And the results speak for themselves. Kenny dominated Origin for NSW; outplaying the much vaunted King Wally Lewis 8 times out of the 12 games they faced each other at 5/8. The five games where Kenny starting in the centres resulted in five Origin defeats for NSW. You do the math.
I’m sure the current crop of XXXX drinkers from the Sunshine State feels the same way about Hayne as Miles did about Kenny. On the wing they can better isolate him, cut off his ball supply and keep him contained.
This is not a shot at Gidley, who is a classy player and should play a major part in this series. His ideal role (IMHO) is playing from the bench, due to his obvious versatility. Gidley can cover almost any position in the backline, as well as play from dummy half. His toughness and experience is a real asset, which could be called upon late in each half to target tiring Maroon forwards, in a similar way that Craig Wing made his bones at representative level.
With Hayne at fullback and Gidley on the bench, I drop Jamal Idris, who I don't think has any part to play as a bench player. He is an undoubted talent, and will likely be a fixture in the side in years to come. But I cannot fathom how the selectors would opt for a specialist centre on the bench. The theory goes that Idris moving into the centres will allow Hayne to move to fullback with Timana Tahu on the wing and Gidley either in the halves or to hooker. WOW. Picking a centre on the bench to allow Hayne to play at fullback? Here's a thought (on the house) - why not pick him at fullback to start off with!!! Then you don't have to reshuffle the entire backline mid game to accommodate players.
My other winger would have been Michael Jennings, who is one of those rare natural talents with speed to burn. His form is exceptional, with last weekends hat-trick of tries an example of the damage he can inflict with his pace. He and Tahu could interchange throughout the game to mix things up a bit, and keep the frogs…sorry, toads, guessing.
I also can't believe that Paul Gallen has failed to figure in the line-up. This is exactly the sort of hard man that is purpose built for S.O.O. He is an ugly, bare-knuckled, street fighter type who has the power to both intimidate and hurt the opposition. If he was born north of the border I guarantee he would have been the first forward on the team sheet. He's our version of Mick Crocker...except we've decided not to pick him. I understand there is a plethora of back rowers all with their hands up - Watmough, Creagh, Waterhouse, Hindmarsh (don't get me started!!!), Lewis, Stewart, O'Donnell, Laffranchi, Mason (just kidding) - but surely the toughest of them all should have found himself with a sky-blue jumper Wednesday week. After all, this is meant to be the toughest arena of footy on the planet.
On the positive side I applaud the selectors for sticking with Brett Kimmorley and Michael Ennis in the 7 and 9 jerseys. Despite my past (very vocal) criticisms of Noddy, his experience and form puts him ahead of the other halfback options...albeit the cupboard is quite bare at the moment. Ennis is another one of those ‘built for Origin’ types. Robbie Farah might have a deeper bag of tricks, but there are still question marks over his toughness. Ennis will not back down from the challenge. And I like the selection of Jamie Lyon at 5/8. I know it isn't his preferred position, but he's one of the competitions form players, and should enjoy running off Noddy's flat passes. Plus he won't be exposed defensively against the big Maroon backs i.e. Greg Inglis.
Whilst we're on the topic of halves, I can't ignore the fact that Mark Geyer, on the Sunday Roast a couple of weeks ago, mentioned (with a straight face mind you) that Brett Finch would be his starting halfback in Origin I. To quote the immortal Fatty Vautin, give yourself an uppercut son. What planet is big MG on??? Finch isn't fit to scrape the lint off the team jumper, much less pull one on come game time. Methinks the big fella copped one high shot too many in his glory days.
My NSW team for Origin I
Bench: White, Lewis, Creagh, Gidley
UP: MARK WEBBER. Two wins on the trot. Leading the F1 Drivers Championship (by virtue of the most race wins). The best performing car on the grid. He is now a legitimate contender for the title. Go you good thing.
DOWN: CHANNEL 9. I can only imagine the conversation between executives at Nine when the draw for the NRL Heritage Round was announced:
Mindless Exec 1: “The next NRL round promotes traditional team rivalries.”
Mindless Exec 2: “Sounds good. What are the options for the free to air feature game on Sunday?”
Mindless Exec 1: “We’ve got Manly versus Parramatta. They shaped footy in the early 80’s with consecutive grand finals. Plus there’s the added sub-plot that they were the clubs most affected by the recent Melbourne Storm salary cap drama. We’ve also got Cronulla versus Penrith, who have never shared any sort of tribal rivalry, and never figure to do so in the future.”
Mindless Exec 2: “Mmm…Sharks versus Panthers eh? Sounds pretty cool. Who do you think would win in a fight between a shark and a panther?”
Mindless Exec 1: “Tough call. If it was on dry land I figure the panther has the edge. In the water I tip the shark.”
Mindless Exec 2: “Good call. Let’s go with that game.”
Mindless Exec 1: “Great idea! Now let’s go grab an overpriced latte and open sandwich with sundried tomato and charge it back to the company!”
UP: JAMES COURTNEY. Nice to see the Blue Oval delivering back to back wins in the V8’s. Courtney, for so long derided amongst his peers because of his flash image, is now delivering with results. Leading the driver’s championship, he has definitely thrown the gauntlet down to Team Vodafone.
UP: EVIL RUSSELL. Did you watch the last episode of Survivor: Heroes versus Villains? This guy should be a CIA interrogator. He bullied, lied, cajoled and intimidated until he broke one of the competitors (Danielle) at tribal council. She was in tears be the time he finished. Honorable mention for Rupert and his fake hidden immunity idol. Didn’t think the big man had the grey matter to pull off a move like that. I still think the dark horse to take out the million is Sandra.
DOWN: MICHAEL CLARKE. Very talented cricketer. Most likely the future Test captain. But he’s got no place in the Twenty 20 team. Which leads me to the next point…
DOWN: TWENTY 20. Congratulations to England on winning the World Cup. Great effort by the Caribbean Islands for hosting, by all reports, a successful tournament. But is this form of cricket even relevant?