When Origin sides are selected, all eyes inevitably fall on the key play-making positions – and the no.1, no.6, no.7 and no.9 jerseys are consistently the most scrutinised. With 19 different halves pairings alone in the NSW VB Blues since 2006, it’s easy to see why these selections gain the most attention at this time every year.
As both teams ramp up their Origin preparations and run through the plays and scenarios they expect to draw upon next Wednesday night, however, the planning of the interchange will be vital – and Steve ‘Blocker’ Roach believes NSW are better placed in this regard.
“I think we’ve got a stronger bench than Queensland,” Roach tells NSWRL.com.au. “I think used properly, this is where we can have a huge advantage.
“If you look at the bench, (Jack) Bird, (Jake) Tbrojevic, (Wade) Graham and (David) Klemmer – all in sensational form – can’t get a start in the starting side. How we use them in Origin I is going to be a telling tale.”
Assuming there are no late changes to either line-up, the VB Blues’ bench is marginally beaten by Queensland in terms of size – which is in contrast to what has been seen in recent years. The Maroons’ Michael Morgan, Sam Thaiday, Aidan Guerra and Jacob Lillyman weigh in at 414kg to the VB Blues’ 412kg – but this is due to the use of smaller, play-making forward Wade Graham, which could be an added benefit.
“He’s got a great kicking game, great offload, he puts pressure on Cooper Cronk – so depending on how they look at how they’re going to use the team, Wade Graham could fit in that back row somewhere,” Roach says, adding that it’s a hard starting second row to crack.
“(Josh) Jackson, Tyson Frizell and (Boyd) Cordner are all 80-minute players. Obviously you want a captain (Cordner) that’s going to play 80 minutes, he plays on that left side which predominantly Wade Graham does too. Jackson’s a wonderful defender, no doubt about that and I love Tyson Frizell – he’s hard to tackle.”
While the way in which Graham is injected into the game is anyone’s guess, it leaves fellow bench forwards Klemmer and Trbojevic to go on in the front row. Both men wear the no.13 jersey for their respective clubs, but Klemmer plays more as a third starting prop for the Bulldogs than a conventional lock; Trbojevic, meanwhile, spent the first half of his NRL career to date up front and will almost certainly be used there again on Wednesday night. Just who takes the field first, Roach believes, could come down to the situation of the game.
“I would say if we’ve had a lot of ball and (Andrew) Fifita’s carving up I’d leave him out there, because he’s the most destructive bloke we’ve got running the football,” Roach explains, hinting that Aaron Woods would be the first off in that instance. “But if we have to defend and we have a lot of ball, I’d say that he (Fifita) would be the first to go and Jake Trbojevic or David Klemmer would replace him.
“If we’re blasting them away in the middle, you might need another big bopper on there first and Klemmer would probably be the first change.”
In the case of Jack Bird, who has been selected as a utility and primarily for injury cover, Roach believes he is likely to take the field regardless – even if not for an extended period.
“I’m sure he’ll get on the field,” Roach says. “Depending on score line, depending on if we need another fast pair of legs on there.
“But where do you fit him? That’s the whole conundrum. A lot of the time you don’t know until you see the way the game is going."
The VB Blues’ bench tactics, of course, was all speculation for the former Balmain and NSW front-rower, but he explained that Laurie Daley will already have an established plan which he will communicate to the playing group.
“Laurie goes in with a plan and then sees how things are going,” Roach says. “It’s footy; all different sorts of scenarios can bounce up out in front of you and you’ve got to be able to think on your feet.
“Laurie does that well – they do that sort of stuff at training. They have scenarios like ‘this is what’s happening at this stage of the game, now this is what we do.’
“He’s had enough experience now in Origin to be able to use these guys properly.”
The Blues’ interchange quartet will be a valuable asset and key to the team’s hopes of securing victory at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night.