Each week in the lead-up to Origin, NSWRL.com.au pick the best-performing NSW-eligible players from the NRL. Selections are based on the previous round only.
1 – James Tedesco (Wests Tigers, captain – second appearance)
Two rounds into the 2016 season, the calls for an Origin berth for Tedesco are only growing louder; he deservedly earns the captaincy this week. The Wests Tigers custodian scored a hat-trick in their win over the Sea Eagles, making it five tries in two games, and combined excellently with centre Kevin Naiqama. The state of New South Wales can only hope he can maintain that form and stay injury-free.
2 – Alex Johnston (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
While the spotlight was well and truly stolen by opposite winger Aaron Gray and former Kiwi representative Bryson Goodwin, Johnston still bagged a double in the Rabbitohs’ demolition of the Knights. Both came in the space of five minutes, including a brilliant solo effort to beat Nathan Ross and Jaelen Feeney, in a reminder of the form that earned him a test debut in 2015.
3 – Jarrod Croker (Canberra Raiders)
Croker has mostly been selected for his leadership on Saturday afternoon – the Raiders’ skipper had to deal with the loss of both halves Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer, the first-minute concussion of Shaun Fensom and the later departure of debutant and distant cousin Lachlan Croker. Canberra still pulled off a surprising one-point win over the Roosters, with the captain laying on a try.
4 – Kane Linnett (North Queensland Cowboys)
The Shellharbour Sharks junior was solid in a losing side at Pirtek Stadium, running for 110 metres and notching up 19 tackles in the defeat. Linnett typifies consistency in the centres for the Cowboys – he hasn’t missed a game since Round 7, 2014.
5 – Aaron Gray (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
The Mascot Jets junior scored a treble in South Sydney’s win over Newcastle, but it was involvement throughout the 80 minutes which was most impressive. Gray made 13 runs, mostly coming out of the Rabbitohs’ half, adding to 146 metres. It was promising signs for the rookie of just 16 NRL games.
6 – Mitch Moses (Wests Tigers – second appearance)
Moses is truly in a purple patch of form and is named at five-eighth for the second consecutive week; the 21-year-old improved on his two try assists in Round 1 to reach three against Manly on Monday night. This week he welcomed back halves partner Luke Brooks but showed no signs of playing second fiddle as the two combined well with Tedesco in ominous signs for the rest of the competition.
7 – Chad Townsend (Cronulla Sharks)
In the demolition derby at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Sunday afternoon, Townsend was outstanding, laying on two tries and scoring one. The returning halfback seemed to be everywhere early on and when the Cronulla pack gained momentum he made the visitors pay – including an incredible assist for Valentine Holmes late in the first half. Unlucky to miss out on the captaincy this week.
8 – Aaron Woods (Wests Tigers – second appearance)
The Wests Tigers captain fell just short of the incredible heights set in Round 1 with 27 tackles and 182 metres run, but also got less game time in the victory. With departed Tiger Martin Taupau making an emotional return to Leichhardt, Woods handled the second-rower’s rampage nicely and also took more hit-ups than anyone else on the park.
9 – Craig Garvey (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs)
There were a few raised eyebrows when the Bulldogs let promising backup hooker Damien Cook leave the club last year, but on Thursday Garvey showed he is a more-than-able replacement for the injured Michael Lichaa. While perhaps less of an attacking weapon, the 22-year-old managed 64 tackles in just his second 80-minute performance – the highest tally of Round 2.
10 – Andrew Fifita (Cronulla Sharks – second appearance)
The aggressive prop was integral to Cronulla’s display on Sunday, running more metres (150) than anyone else at Southern Cross Group Stadium which gave the home side the ascendency early. The fiercely focused Fifita also made 22 tackles in a strong effort.
11 – Josh Jackson (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs)
Jackson was a workhorse in the Bulldogs thrilling win over the Panthers making 38 tackles despite giving the home side plenty of ball on their line. The incumbent VB Blues second-rower was typically involved with the ball too, running it 13 times.
12 – Paul Carter (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
While it was slightly less of a performance than Round 1, Carter did enough in his 50 minutes against Newcastle on Saturday. The son of one-time VB Blues representative Steve made 21 tackles and sent Keary over for a try as the Rabbitohs put the Knights to the sword.
13 – Dale Finucane (Melbourne Storm)
One of just four New South Welshmen in the successful Storm outfit, Finucane ran 14 times for 98 metres and made 28 tackles in a solid 50-minute performance. The Bega Roosters junior is capable of more game time if needed and is consistent in the Melbourne back row.
14 – Luke Keary (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Unlucky not to make the Round 1 team in favour of halves partner Adam Reynolds, Keary stepped into the dominant half role seamlessly this week in Reynolds’ absence. The proud New South Welshman laid on a try and scored one himself in the Rabbitohs’ thrashing of the Knights and has been central to the team’s success so far.
15 – James Tamou (North Queensland Cowboys)
The VB Blues spearhead makes his way onto the bench in this week’s side with a 36-tackle, 117-metre performance as the Cowboys went down to the Eels. His minutes increased from 41 to 54 this week and how he responds to the reduced interchange could impact his Origin chances this year.
16 – Paul Vaughan (Canberra Raiders)
With the loss of Shaun Fensom in the opening minute, the Raiders forwards needed to pick up the slack and Vaughan did just that, running 169 metres and making 21 tackles in just 40 minutes on the field. The 24-year-old is proving a handful off the Raiders’ bench.
17 – Tim Grant (Wests Tigers)
A new signing for the Wests Tigers this year, Tim Grant was heavily involved with 133 metres and 24 tackles. The two-time VB Blues representative looks to be fitting in well at Concord.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the NSWRL.