Origin Hope: Panthers Stars Put Club First
A host of Penrith NSW Origin hopefuls are in agreement: a Blues call-up would be nice but it won't come unless they can first help their club get back in the winners' circle.
Penrith are now on a three-game losing streak following Sunday's dire home loss to the Sharks and Blues stalwart James Tamou, current Kangaroos lock Trent Merrin (who was not selected at all for Origin last year) and likely future Blues star Nathan Cleary are among those who say an Origin distraction won't be good for Penrith just now.
Tamou reckons his current form doesn't warrant Origin retention while Merrin is clearly unhappy to have been shunted from the side last year and wants to return. Cleary says he'd be ready if called upon but isn't expecting to be in the conversation with the Panthers playing the way they are at the moment.
One factor working against both Merrin and Tamou is an absolute wealth of quality middle forwards for Blues coach Laurie Daley to call upon.
Among those who have yet to even play Origin, Raiders prop Shannon Boyd made his Test debut in the end-of-season Four Nations last year and his clubmate Junior Paulo is in the conversation. Dragons pair Jack De Belin and Paul Vaughan are in rampaging form, Titan Ryan James is knocking on the door along with Manly's Jake Trbojevic and Melbourne's Dale Finucane.
From last year's Game III-winning team only Paul Gallen (rep retirement) is unavailable while Rooster Boyd Cordner will come back into the team.
"It's not on the radar at the moment," was Tamou's simple response to whether he felt he would retain his Blues jersey.
"Absolutely I want to be there for sure, it's always a good time of year and there's a good bunch of blokes there and we're building at the moment, the Blues, we're building strongly.
"It's one of those things, you'd love to be there but you can't take your focus from what's happening here at the moment and as one of the experienced players in the team the team here needs me. I've got to put my hand up [for Penrith]."
Merrin said he had "no expectations on Origin".
"My main focus is this club and playing the best I can for the Panthers and if rep footy comes on the back of that that would be awesome and I'll take it with both hands," he said.
"It's always a goal that you want to be a part of but my main focus is getting the wins on the board for this club."
However Merrin freely admitted his disappointment at being left out last year, particularly given his dynamic form later in the year not just for Penrith but for Australia.
"Always disappointing (not to be picked); they're the teams you want to be a part of and I hold those things close to my heart," he said.
"But I'm not going to be selfish and start thinking about rep footy for my own accolades. I need to bunker down and go through this tough time with this team and come through the other end."
Tamou was more than happy to talk up the current depth in the Blues' pack however, which he said would be an asset for the team regardless of whether he is selected or not.
"There are some good forwards who played well at the back end of last year who deservedly got picked for the Kangaroos squad," Tamou said.
"It's always one of those things, everyone wants to play Origin.
"They're building well and there's that good young crop coming through – you've got the Bulldogs boys and Shannon Boyd and Boyd Cordner [to return] who's probably the number one pick. It's always going to be tough... it's going to be interesting to watch."
Young half Cleary has been widely touted as the next long-term NSW halfback with many pundits suggesting it's a case of "if not this year then definitely next year" for the impressive playmaker.
The confident 19-year-old backed himself to be ready if chosen but wasn't expecting that to be even a consideration until he helps Penrith return to form.
"I've always dreamt of doing that and it's a great honour to be talked about in that company but I haven't been playing well at the start of this season," Cleary said.
"I need to turn my form around and that will really help the team and then if that comes I'll be really appreciative."
Asked would he be ready, he added: "I suppose so – I wouldn't say no, that's for sure, but I've got a lot of work to do to work on my game to improve."
This article first appeared on NRL.com