Core contingent … NSW Origin hopefuls Jarryd Hayne and Mitchell Pearce. Photo: Getty Images
At the start of last year, Ricky Stuart had a meeting with the players he had identified as the core long-term members of the NSW team - Paul Gallen, Kurt Gidley, Todd Carney, Mitchell Pearce, Luke Lewis and Jarryd Hayne.
This was a great move. For too long NSW had chopped and changed its team from year to year, even game to game, so we desperately needed stability. On the back of this NSW took it to Queensland last year and were in with a chance of finally winning the series. All of the core players played in last year's team except for Todd Carney who was carrying an injury at the start of 2011 and wasn't fit enough for Origin footy.
With this as the starting point for NSW's vastly improved performances last year, I can't believe so many positions are again up for grabs in 2012. Are the Blues really going to go into this year's series with yet another new-look team? If the players listed above are fit, they should be chosen. After doing a good job last year, why do they have to earn their stripes all over again?
I'm comfortable with Carney coming in ahead of Jamie Soward because Carney was in Stuart's original plans. But if Carney isn't a certain selection, why isn't Soward in the running to retain his spot? He was good enough for all three games last year and was man of the match a couple of times at the start of this season. Yet now he's supposedly not good enough for City-Country.
Pearce, the incumbent NSW halfback, is playing for City in Mudgee today but he must be feeling enormous pressure. In fact, of those who played in the four key positions for NSW last year- hooker, halfback, five-eighth and fullback - Pearce is the only one playing today. Fullbacks Josh Dugan (injured) and Anthony Minichiello weren't selected. Soward and hooker Michael Ennis have also been overlooked.
Ennis is an interesting one. He has played seven Origins and started in all three last year. However he was overlooked for Danny Buderus as first-picked hooker for Country. Reading between the lines, Buderus will be picked for Origin. Now I can understand this, as his experience is a massive asset. The guy may be 34 but he has captained NSW to a series win and it's hard to overlook that. I still feel Ennis needs to be kept in the fold. He was starting hooker last year, and presumably will be again next year if we only get one year out of Buderus. Then again, a journalist told me during the week Stuart had gone off Ennis. He said if Buderus isn't picked then Robbie Farah will be. Like Pearce and Soward, I don't understand why Ennis was good enough last year, but now he isn't.
Ennis, Buderus and Farah are all great players. But when are we going to start building something that lasts more than one series? When are we going to give our team the time to build combinations? Combinations are everything. Queensland's combinations are their greatest strength. The Maroons have the best players in the game in the key positions. We can't select better players than Queensland because better players don't exist. However, it is the way these players combine that makes them so potent. We can't match their talent right now but over time, we can match their understanding and their teamwork. Pearce and Carney took the Roosters to a grand final in 2010. They know how each other plays. This is a start.
Darren Lockyer is gone and the Maroons have a new halves combination. But it won't take Cooper Cronk long to assimilate. Queensland could quite easily have talked up the battle between Scott Prince and Cronk for the spot that was inevitably going to be created when Lockyer retired. But they put that to bed three years ago. They picked Cronk on the bench and said he's the bloke they want in the halves when Locky retires. Now he'll put on the Maroons No.7 jersey and immediately feel comfortable at Origin level.
Even without Lockyer it is still too hard to match the Maroons' playing talents. Nevertheless, we can match their combinations. I'm just wondering when we're going to start. I thought we started last year. I hope I wasn't wrong.