Age is no barrier to Peter Wallace returning to the NSW Blues team, according to new assistant coach Danny Buderus, in another indication Nathan Cleary is being groomed to take over at halfback.
Buderus, one of the best hookers of all time, said 32-year-old Wallace's chances of a recall after eight years out of the Origin arena will be enhanced by his club combination with Cleary.
The two key Penrith Panthers have a chance to deepen their on-field relationship in the early rounds of 2018 which may present an irresistible combination for incoming Blues coach Brad Fittler.
Fittler named hookers of the calibre of Jayden Brailey (Cronulla Sharks), Michael Lichaa (Canterbury-Bankstown), Victor Radley (Sydney Roosters), Kyle Schneider (Parramatta Eels), Reece Robson (St George Illawarra Dragons) and Jacob Liddle (Wests Tigers) in his Emerging Blues squad for a development camp on January 13.
They all have youth on their side but only a handful have NRL experience. Wallace has that in spades with 231 appearances for Penrith and the Brisbane Broncos. Buderus says the veteran rake won't be overlooked for selection consideration, especially if he and Cleary continue to blossom. Wallace was on the cusp of reigniting his Origin career in 2017 before a groin injury intervened and Nathan Peats got the gig.
''Age doesn’t come into it at all,'' Buderus told NRL.com.
''It’s all about the way Freddy [Fittler] wants to play. He's been open about that for the past few weeks, since he's been given the head role, that he wants to pick the right team to play the right style of play. That's how he'll do it.''
Peats, as the incumbent NSW hooker, is by no means off anyone's radar at NSWRL headquarters. Other hookers like St George Illawarra's Cameron McInnes, Manly Sea Eagles livewire Api Koroisau and South Sydney Rabbitohs No.9 Damien Cook can state their cases with cracking form.
The last two of Buderus’s 21 Origin games in 2008, were the first two of Wallace's four appearances. But he made them at halfback alongside three five-eighths in Greg Bird, Terry Campese and Trent Barrett.
And that’s the crux of the matter right there. The last time NSW dominated the interstate series – the hat-trick of success from 2003-05 – was with Buderus and Andrew Johns as the hooker-halfback combination.
Both players came from the Newcastle Knights and helped steer the club to the 2001 premiership. Queensland’s success has been greatly helped by the fact Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk are also the match-winning hooker-halfback combination at Melbourne Storm.
NSW have not had the same hooker and halfback combination from the same club for the past decade.
''That's right. You look at Cleary and you'd like to bring someone through with him,'' Buderus said, acknowledging Wallace might not the long-term solution but could be a present-day answer to success.
''If you can bring a spine through together and they stay consistent, that breeds success.
''That's the challenge for everyone and has been the challenge for a long time for NSW.
''We've identified the positions that need some growth and development (in NSW Origin team) and that’s the halves and hookers. So there's a lot more of those guys there in the Emerging Blues. It's about progressing, taking time, staying patient, keep ticking away and feeding them that Origin mentality and the different ways to play together.
''They get enough education in clubland but we can support that too. There are some younger ones there like Jayden who only just debuted in their maiden seasons this year. So those guys need a year or so more to keep developing. Then there’s other guys below them.
''The state is crying out for someone to really grab that spine jersey and control those positions of nine, six, seven and one. That will determine the success of the state over the next period.''
Fittler is bringing in other former Origin greats as coaching helpers at the January camp, rather than NRL club assistants. It’s no surprise Johns is one to help with the halves positions and Anthony Minichiello with fullbacks.
''It was just that these additional coaching spots are a real plus for a team,'' Buderus said. ''And we're really excited to do it – couldn’t wait to get involved and help out.
''For me I've been involved in the (under 16s and under 18s) pathways for a year now, not just for the hooking, but it is an area that needs a bit of attention. I know I can help out.''