Dylan Edwards cruelled by Nathan Cleary injury as James Tedesco firms for NSW fullback spot

Michael Maguire is facing a huge call on who to pick as his No.1 for State of Origin.

Dylan Edwards is said to be a 'live' chance of claiming the NSW fullback jersey, but James Tedesco has his nose in front because of the leadership void it would leave if the Blues dumped their captain. Tedesco has been NSW skipper for the last few years, but many have called for him to be replaced by Edwards after the Blues' back-to-back series losses.

The Roosters fullback had an underwhelming season in 2023, but has bounced back to his brilliant best this year. Edwards is one of the form players of the comp so far this year and made his debut for Australia at the end of 2023.

Dylan Edwards, Nathan Cleary and James Tedesco.
James Tedesco (R) appears to have his nose slightly in front of Dylan Edwards (L) for the NSW fullback spot. Image: Getty

NSW coach Michael Maguire is facing a huge call about who gets the No.1 jersey, with Edwards and Tedesco both getting one final chance to impress this weekend before the team for Origin I is named on Sunday. According to leading journalist James Hooper, both players are still in contention but Tedesco has his nose slightly in front.

Discussing the situation on NRL 360 on Wednesday night, Hooper revealed Edwards probably would have been selected if Panthers teammate Nathan Cleary was playing. But with the Blues missing so much experience with Cleary, Tom Trbojevic and Cameron Murray out injured, it might leave too much of a leadership void if Tedesco is also axed.

James Tedesco in action for NSW in 2023.
James Tedesco (L) has captained NSW to back-to-back series losses.

“I think if Nathan Cleary’s fit then Dylan Edwards is in the team, certainly that’s the word around the game," Hooper reported. "If Nathan was guaranteed fit, I think Nathan would take over as captain and Dylan Edwards would absolutely be the No.1. Since Nathan’s been injured, I think it’s become more of a 50/50 race.

“In my opinion, [Tedesco] has been the captain for three of the last four series, we’ve only won one of those. So I actually think it is time for a change. Dylan Edwards has shown on the biggest stage – three consecutive grand finals, Clive Churchill medal in 2022 - he can handle it. As the last line of defence, as a communicator, he is first class.”


But Michael Carayannis suggested Maguire might be unwilling to do away with Tedesco's experience. “I personally would go for James Tedesco on the back of the inexperience that is going to be in the halves,” he said. “Nicho Hynes is probably going to start his first Origin game. Five-eighth is a bit of a toss of the coin, do they go for Cody Walker, do they go for Jarome Luai? Neither are igniting the season at the moment. I think if you leave James Tedesco out of that side, there’s a massive leadership void.”

James Graham suggested Maguire might also be wary of the sideshow it would create by axing the captain. "If it is a 50/50, the fact that this (picking Tedesco) would be less negative in terms of the headlines," Graham said. “I think it’s more about the fallout… He’s got to pick a team to win. Part of winning is managing the press, managing the media. That impacts the decision.”

Dylan Edwards and Nathan Cleary.
Dylan Edwards' State of Origin chances have been cruelled by Nathan Cleary's injury.

But Hooper rejected that claim, saying: “Madge isn’t going to pick the team based on headlines. He couldn’t give a rats’ about headlines.”

Discussing the potential 17 for Origin I on Wednesday, Tedesco conceded Maguire would probably make some sweeping changes. “We lost the last two years so changes probably need to be made. We’ll just see what happens,” he said.

“For me and most guys, it’s just about putting your best foot forward for your club and then it’s up to Madge and what he decides. Whoever he picks, us as players and fans and the whole state have to back them. The main focus for me is trying to play good footy and get some wins for the Roosters. When Origin comes, it’s up to them to make a decision. I’ve been happy with how I’ve been playing and how the team has been going.”