With the State of Origin series opener just two months away, selection debates are gradually beginning to consume the Rugby League community - and the NSW No.1 position is no exception.
As Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler prepares to put together a winning side for the 2018 series, players in all positions have been putting their hand up to force a selection. In the battle for the custodian role, many believe it to be a two-horse race: incumbent and James Tedesco and Sea Eagles star Tom Trbojevic.
While the season is just four rounds old, stats indicate a relatively level playing field on early-season form alone. Trbojevic edges out the Roosters fullback in line-breaks and try-assists, with five of each compared to the Tedesco’s three in each category, but has broken fewer tackles (15) than the Tricolours’ new signing (22). Each player has one try to their name and are comparable in running metres and tackle efficiency.
Another factor which may influence the selection decision is the players’ experience at representative level. Trbojevic, 21, was selected by Mal Meninga to represent Australia in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, winning against France and Lebanon and importantly, lining up at wing and centre respectively.
Tedesco, of course, is the Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues incumbent – and while he might be considered unlucky not to have donned the green and gold in last year’s tournament, he has been a solid performer for NSW in each of his four appearances. Tedesco has topped his state’s running metres in three of those four games, exceeding 200 metres twice, also leading in tackle-breaks throughout last series.
While the statistical match-up may be evenly-poised at the early stages of the season, the public appears to have a clear preference. In a social media poll posted by Fox League, 77% of respondents opted for Trbojevic as the No.1 selection. NSW True Blues Bryan Fletcher and Nathan Hindmarsh agreed.
“Trbojevic,” Fletcher said, speaking on The Late Show With Matty Johns. “This kid here, what he’s been doing… last weekend he put on three tries.
“Just his positional play, he’s safe at the back, his defence is great. At the moment, he’s New South Wales’ fullback.”
“He’s leading the line-breaks, he’s second in line-break-assists, second in try-assists I think,” Hindmarsh added. “But also, if he doesn’t play fullback I think he can slot onto a wing, or into centre.”
The selection of both in the NSW side remains a possibility, as both players have international experience playing elsewhere in the back line. Injured Parramatta fullback Clint Gutherson was another to suggest this as a solution.
With both the Roosters and the Sea Eagles sitting on two wins from the first month of competition, the teams’ form over the next two months may also influence the selection decision – including an enticing match-up between the two sides in Round 9 at Allianz Stadium. The Holden State of Origin series will then kick off at the iconic MCG on Wednesday, 6 June, with Blatchys Blues tickets available now.
The opinions expressed are those of the writer and are not reflective of the NSWRL or State of Origin selection process.