Matty Johns in clash with Cooper Cronk over Cameron Murray role for Origin

Questions are being asked about the NSW stalwart's role for the State of Origin.

Matty Johns (L) and Cooper Cronk (R) have differing opinions on Cameron Murray's role in the NSW Origin side. Pic: Getty

Matty Johns has questioned the role of Cameron Murray in the New South Wales State of Origin side after suggesting he may be more effective off the bench for the Blues. The former NRL star was discussing the potential make-up of NSW coach Brad Fittler's Blues side on Fox League on Wednesday night, when he put forward the Murray suggestion that is sure to raise a few eyebrows.

Murray plays at lock for South Sydney and would almost be a guaranteed pick in that position if it wasn't for Isaah Yeo. Unfortunately for Murray, the Panthers co-captain is the finest No.13 in the game after winning the Dally M Lock of the Year for the last three seasons - not to mention two consecutive premierships with Penrith.

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It means that in order to fit Murray into Fittler's starting 13, the Rabbitohs skipper plays on an edge, where he featured for NSW in Games II and III of last year's Origin series. Murray was also very effective coming off the bench for Australia in the Kangaroos' World Cup final triumph in England last year and Johns thinks it's a plan the Blues could follow.

Souths captain Cameron Murray races away from the Roosters defence in the NRL. Pic: Getty
Souths captain Cameron Murray races away from the Roosters defence in the NRL. Pic: Getty

“Watching that elevated view on Anzac Day and seeing where all that space is, confirmed to me that for the majority of the State of Origin, New South Wales need Yeo and Murray through the middle,” Johns said on Fox League. “If you start Murray on an edge and on the first interchange put an edge forward on there... and he moves into the middle.

“The other option is, and I know traditionally if you say, ‘Murray comes off the bench’ people go, ‘Oh the bench’, but keeping him out of the smash and crash early in that first 20 minutes and then bringing him on after 20 minutes and we see the speed of the ruck in State of Origin, how fatigued the middles get and how size becomes a liability. Let Yeo still be the primary ball-player but let Murray’s speed and footwork operate.”

Cronk said while he could see the merits in both options, the simple fact of the matter is that Murray had to start in Origin as one of his side's best defensive players. "I like him probably starting on the edge because in Origin starting your best defensive team, you’ve got to set the tone early,” Cronk said.

“If I’m Nathan Cleary, who likes to sort of maybe get a second layer off Isaah Yeo, you don’t have to wait for Isaah Yeo. If you’ve got both of them in the middle playing a tandem middle role, Yeo might have a carry and Cam Murray stands up to be your first receiver or ball-player, so I like it.”

Race on for NSW five-eighth spot

Murray's role is just one of several headaches for Fittler, whose biggest decision will arguably be whether to keep the incumbent Jarome Luai at five-eighth or bring in Dally M Medal winner Nicho Hynes to partner Nathan Cleary in the halves. Hynes is making an irresistible case to make his State of Origin debut and has been in dazzling form for the second-placed Sharks in 2023.

Hynes has only played five games this year, but has eight try assists and 11 line break assists. The 26-year-old sits equal third in the Dally M tally and has already signalled his intention to Fittler to take the No.6 jersey.

The Sharks five-eighth was selected as 18th man for the Origin series opener in 2021 and the first two games of last year but has yet to play in his first Origin match. Given his ability to play as a fullback as well as in the halves, Hynes could be selected as a bench utility, if not a starter.

On the contrary, Luai's form for the Panthers has not been as strong so far this season, with many questioning whether he deserves to get the nod ahead of Hynes. Luai's combination with Cleary - who he's won back-to-back NRL premierships alongside at Penrith - could be the deciding factor for Fittler, who admits he is yet to make a call on the No.6 role.

"There's still three weeks and he's got a couple of games to go," Fittler said about Hynes and the case the Cronulla ace is mounting for Origin. "Not only has he still got to keep playing well, (he's got to) stay injury-free.

"There are couple of other players there doing a good job as well. But just watching him is enjoyable, watching what he does on the field and off the field. He's a great role model for the game."

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