Peter Sterling spoke highly of VB Blues coach Laurie Daley’s ability to gradually transition players into the Origin arena when he was appointed as an advisor late last year.
Now, one of the greatest players and the sharpest minds Rugby League has seen, Andrew Johns, believes NSW will use that to their advantage, by retaining most of the players who played last year to get the job done in 2017.
Two games at Suncorp Stadium is the greatest challenge for NSW, but now that some of the most exciting young players in the game, including Matt Moylan and James Tedesco have gradually entered into the Origin arena, they now have the experience to topple Queensland in their own backyard.
Johns, however, maintains the door is not shut on new players due to potential injury and lack of form, and he has his eye on one player in particular for a potential debut.
“Someone like Tom Trbojevic will go close if he starts the season and plays well,” Johns says.
“I saw him the other day, I couldn’t believe how much weight he’s put on and he just looks so big and powerful, I saw highlights of the trial against the Roosters and he shined, he’s a special player.
“He will be a chance, but I think most of the squad will be made up of the guys that played their last year, maybe a sprinkling [of new players], one or two here or there.”
The fullback position has an enormously talented player pool, and Trbojevic is just one of five that is eligible for NSW and is a realistic chance of selection.
While there is only room for one fullback in the team, Johns has no issue picking players out of position.
“The fullback position you’ve got Moylan, you’ve got Trbojevic, you’ve got [Jarryd] Hayne and Tedesco,” Johns says.
“They may have to juggle those guys around, I think Moylan could play five-eighth, he’s a tremendous player, the battle of the fullback is going to be the big one.
“It’s a tough one because you’ve got so many young players putting their hand up; in some positions there’s four or five guys that could be picked, so it’s up to Laurie and the selectors to make those big calls.”
“The real great players can play in any position, nowadays there’s not much of a difference between fullback and five-eighth, and some of our great fullbacks started on the wing.”
Johns earned immortality status in the halfback position, and understands what is required to play in such a key role at this level.
He talked through potential players that could start in 2017, as well as two who impressed last year, but are not ready for the Origin arena.
“I thought Adam Reynolds in the Charity Shield the other day was sensational, [while] Mitchell Pearce has come back and is in a really good place,” Johns says.
“We’ve seen in the past with NSW, Pearce is one and the other is Jarrod Mullen, we threw them in too young.
“You can be killing first grade and going really well at NRL level, but Origin is a completely different beast and you can’t have any chinks in your armour, especially at halfback, you’re under all sorts of pressure.
“Someone like Mitchell Moses is a couple of years off, but he’d be knocking on the door, [while] Nathan [Cleary] will be there one day, but I think he is two or three years off.”
“Dylan [Walker] is an out-and-out centre, I don’t see him as a five-eighth and going by the trial the other night he looks in really good touch.”
Every year there is talk about Origin selections, but not every year there is captaincy debate.
Gallen was farewelled with a last-minute victory in Game III last year, and the next captain will be named when the team is announced for Game I.
Johns narrowed it down to two potential candidates.
“There’s Aaron Woods and Boyd Cordner,” Johns says.
“Boyd doesn’t say too much, but he’s one of those guys that’s just got the presence, every player that plays with him respects him so much.”