If I had to pick my NSW XVII this week, I would try to stick as much as possible with the team that got the job done last year.
Obviously some of the players that won the 2018 Origin series are not in the same sort of form right now as they were when they got picked last year, or are in teams that are now struggling more than they were last year.
But once you go into a 10-day camp that's more than enough time to get away from your club form and club mindset and get your head into Origin.
If you've been there and done it before then you're an Origin player. How many times have we seen Queensland pick players from teams that were going badly or the players themselves looked miles out of form but because they are a proven Origin match-winner they come in and dominate time and again.
The players might look like they're struggling because their team is struggling but once they get back in that environment surrounded by the best of the best, it brings the best out in them too. It can also be a good opportunity to just get back to focusing on your own job because you know everyone around you will be doing theirs, which is not always the case in clubland.
Match Highlights: Blues v Maroons
That's another reason to lean towards incumbency, because you know those players can work together and get the best out of each other.
The only two players from Game III last year that are unavailable are winger Tom Trbojevic and bench lock Jack De Belin.
For Trbojevic's right wing spot, there is a young crop of wingers on the way up with guys like Nick Cotric and Campbell Graham doing some good things but just for this year I would go back to Blake Ferguson.
For starters he is a right winger, he has performed at Origin and Test level before and he has also been in terrific form this year – at least up until he was injured against the Raiders two weeks ago but I don't think that will slow him down for long.
I was worried when he left the Roosters he wouldn't be able to maintain what he was doing but if anything he has gone to another level at Parramatta, particularly in terms of his leadership around the group which is a great sign.
The standout candidate to replace De Belin on the bench is Cam Murray. He is also a lock so he doesn't upset the team balance. He has been a revelation this year, consistently one of Souths' best players and I love his energy, his creativity and his leg speed.
I would make just two other changes, with James Roberts to make way given his struggles with form but particularly injury this year, and Tyrone Peachey also out. It's an unlucky one for Peachey but the Blues struggled to get him involved last year and with his lack of game time I'm not really classifying him as an incumbent. He can still prove he deserves a spot before the teams are actually picked but it has mostly been a tough start to the year on the Gold Coast and if I was picking a team now I can't fit him in.
The new right centre is Jesse Ramien. I don't think the Knights have worked out how to use him yet but he looks dangerous every time he gets the ball and I think his physicality is well suited to Origin.
For the bench utility I would go back to Jack Bird. He started the year in fantastic touch and despite a couple of off weeks looked like he was back to something like his bet in the win over Cronulla. He covers every spot in the back six, could spend some at dummy half if there is an injury and do a job in a roaming lock type role if you want to get him into the game and there are no injuries elsewhere.
The other contentious position is the halves.
I think Keary absolutely deserves to be in Origin and he is close to the in-form player across the whole competition. But I'm going with incumbent No.6 and 7 because they won the series last year, they are integral to the spine and need to be given a chance.
I would put Keary as 18th man and if they play poorly in game one or there is any injury he should be in there. The Penrith boys aren't playing terribly and have a new coach with a new game plan and they have been missing other players in the team at club level so I'll give the halves game one with Keary in there as 18th man.
I don't see reason to change the forwards any further. David Klemmer, Paul Vaughan, Boyd Cordner, Tyson Frizell, Jake Trbojevic and Damien Cook pick themselves. Angus Crichton has done enough to keep his bench spot and while Tariq Sims played only the game three loss last year, I think he has to be in there. He has been at the centre of everything the Dragons have done well last year and this year, I love his aggression and he brings that intimidation and fear factor.
That leaves no specialist props on the bench but Sims can play in the middle if he needs to, Klemmer and Vaughan are big bodies that can play big minutes, Trbojevic can be used at prop and Frizell can also shift into the middle to get Crichton into the action.
Match Highlights: Blues v Maroons
My NSW team for Origin I
- James Tedesco
- Blake Ferguson
- Latrell Mitchell
- Jesse Ramien
- Josh Addo-Carr
- James Maloney
- Nathan Cleary
- David Klemmer
- Damien Cook
- Paul Vaughan
- Boyd Cordner (c)
- Tyson Frizell
- Jake Trbojevic
- Jack Bird
- Tariq Sims
- Angus Crichton
- Cameron Murray
- Luke Keary