They’re the brothers in a race for a NSW VB Blues jersey – and Laurie Daley himself is unsure whether Tom or Jake Trbojevic will be first into the State of Origin arena.
Tom, 20, and Jake, 23, have both been touted for Origin debuts for more than a year, with the pair earning selections as Development Players prior to Game Three in 2016. Jake followed it up with a maiden Kangaroos selection, scoring a try in his only game during the Rugby League Four Nations, while Tom has been impressive as a mainstay at fullback for the Sea Eagles. Both players have already made the VB Blues Team of the Week three times, with Tom most recently making the bench in the Round 5 team.
The VB Blues head coach, however, speaking on NRL360 on Fox League gave no indication as to who is closer to representing their state.
“Oh look I think both of them would handle it – I’ve got no doubt about that,” Daley told the panel. “Let me say this: last year we had them as 18th and 19th man for Game Three. Tom was there in case a back got injured and Jake was there in case a forward got injured.
“They’re playing well and they’re putting their best foot forward.”
Pressed about Jake’s Origin chances in the absence of retiring captain and lock Paul Gallen, Daley reminded hosts Paul Kent and Ben Ikin about another player who is in fierce competition for the no.13 jersey.
“No Trent Merrin there last year either,” Daley explained. “We didn’t pick Trent and I was very impressed by the way that he played his football at the end of last year.”
The Manly team, Daley said, had combined well as a team in the early rounds on the way to a 3-2 record.
“You look at Tom Trbojevic – young, exciting player – [Akuila] Uate was punted from Newcastle, Brian Kelly gets an opportunity in the centres – couldn’t get an opportunity with the Gold Coast,” Daley said. “[Daly] Chery-Evans had a poor season, coming back and he’s now the captain.
“They come into a group, they like their coach, they’re playing for their coach, they’re playing for their colours and they look as though they’re enjoying it.”
Another point of contention early in the season has been the VB Blues’ hooking role, with Rabbitoh Damien Cook recently touted as a dark horse, Peter Wallace in solid form and the Dragons’ Cameron McInnes making three of the first five Teams of the Week. Daley, however, insisted people don’t forget the incumbent and 16-time NSW no.9 Robbie Farah.
“What we’ve tended to do is say that we will pick the best nine – but you also have to take into account people that have been there before in an environment like it will be for Game One at Suncorp Stadium,” Daley said. “I don’t go into any games with any injured players. If guys can’t train I’m reluctant to select them as part of the squad.
“In terms of Robbie, Robbie just needs to be playing well – if he’s playing well, he’ll be considered.”
On the other side of the desk, Queensland coach Kevin Walters fielded a selection query of his own: the Maroons’ bench utility role, held by the Cowboys’ Michael Morgan in Origin I and II last year.
“We’re very loyal to our players that serve well,” Walters said simply. “Michael Morgan will have to fall over basically, or not be available to not be selected. [That] includes Anthony Milford as well.
“The thing with players like Michael Morgan is you never want to ever forget your strengths as a player.”
As the NRL season – and State of Origin selection discussion – progresses, a number of players have time to put their hands up for selection. With so many NSW-eligible players performing strongly, the headache will be a good one for Laurie Daley. See the NSW VB Blues coach LIVE on NRL360 each week, Monday, from 6:30pm (AEST).