Pick or stick? It's the age-old question that NSW coach Brad Fittler and his Blues selectors will have to weigh up before the State of Origin series opener in Adelaide on May 31. While the Blues have often rewarded players who've performed at Origin level in the past, they also lost the last series and may decide that changes are necessary in order to wrestle back the shield from Queensland.
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Angus Crichton has only just returned from a mental health break, Liam Martin is still sidelined with a 'mystery' hamstring injury and Nicho Hynes has been putting forward an irresistible case to oust incumbent five-eighth Jarome Luai. Check out our predicted NSW team for Game I below:
Fullback - James Tedesco
The NSW captain and fullback is arguably the first picked for the Blues and always seems to go to another level come Origin time.
Wing - Campbell Graham
The Rabbitohs centre and Kangaroos World Cup winner has been one of the standout players in the NRL this season, and simply has to be picked on form.
Centre - Tom Trbojevic
If fit (and admittedly it's a big 'if') there are few players that can take hold of a game like 'Turbo' has done for Manly and the Blues in the past. Needs a few big games for the Sea Eagles over the next few weeks.
Centre - Latrell Mitchell
The Rabbitohs fullback is another 'out-of-position' selection for Fittler, but like 'Turbo' can make something out of nothing for his side. Mitchell is in outstanding form for the Bunnies and would have partnered Trbojevic in the centres last year if both weren't injured.
Wing - Brian To'o
The two-time premiership-winning Panthers flyer is the incumbent Blues winger and deserves to keep his spot as one of Penrith's most consistent performers. Tough as nails and ever-reliable at the back, To'o has proven time and again that size is no hindrance to his ability to diffuse Queensland's aerial bombardment for their tall wingers.
Five-eighth - Nicho Hynes
Last year's Dally M Medal winner has continued where he left off, dominating games in 2023 and guiding his side to second on the NRL ladder. Blues incumbent Jarome Luai might have the combination with his halves partner Nathan Cleary, but Hynes' form and ability to break open a game, make him a must-pick for NSW.
Halfback - Nathan Cleary
Two premierships, a World Cup winner and a Clive Churchill medallist all by the age of 25. Not much more needs to be said about one of the best players in the game and he's a certain selection for the Blues at No.7.
Prop - Payne Haas
The Broncos prop is widely regarded as the best middle forward in the game and currently leads the Dally M Medal count ahead of Cleary. Can play big minutes and will rack up massive run metres, Haas will be one of the first names on the Blues' team sheet.
Hooker - Damien Cook
The Rabbitohs rake has been in superb form in 2023 and has done an outstanding job as the Blues' hooker over a number of years. Api Koroisau has been putting up a strong case to replace Cook at No.9 but his form hasn't been as strong since moving to the Wests Tigers and Cook has done enough to justify keeping his spot.
Prop - Junior Paulo
The Eels big man looks set to be the main beneficiary of Jake Trbojevic's absence for Game I and deserves his spot as one of the best middle forward's in the game. Will be desperate to lift after a less than convincing display for NSW in the 2022 series.
Second row - Haumole Olakau'atu
The Manly edge forward has been knocking on the door for Origin and 2023 should be his year. With doubts over Liam Martin's hamstring injury and Angus Crichton only just returning from a mental health break, the rampaging Sea Eagles back-rower will be a handful for the Maroons to contend with and has the ability to make something out of nothing.
Second row - Cam Murray
The South Sydney captain is made for rep footy. A tireless workhorse in defence and attack, the Kangaroos World Cup winner is a big-game player and one Fittler can rely on to do a job for his side.
Lock - Isaah Yeo
Three consecutive Dally M Lock of the Year awards tells you all you need to know about Penrith's co-captain and two-time premiership winner. One of the first picked.
Interchange - Api Koroisau
The Tigers skipper provides a different point in attack to Cook and can change the momentum of a game as a gun utility option for Fittler's side.
Interchange - Angus Crichton
A NSW Origin regular and World Cup winner with Australia, Crichton's class is undeniable, although he'll need some big performances after making his long-awaited return to the NRL with the Roosters, having taken time off in the wake of his bipolar disorder diagnosis.
Interchange - Daniel Saifiti
The Newcastle Knights wrecking ball has proven himself at Origin level before and is a favourite of Blues coach Fittler. Brings size and plenty of fire to the NSW pack.
Interchange - Shaun Lane
Missed the start of the season with a broken jaw, but has shown the Eels what they were missing since making his return. Integral to Parramatta's march to the 2022 grand final, the giant second-rower is strong in defence and a handful in attack, always capable of creating something with his deadly offloading game.
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