Raiders captain Terry Campese will need to dominate Jarrod Mullen in the halves on Saturday. Photo: Getty Images
Peter Sterling says debate over NSW Origin selection this early in the season is ''crazy'' as speculation swirls that the Roosters' James Maloney is in danger of losing his five-eighth spot to Canterbury's Josh Reynolds.
But the Parramatta great said some Blues players may have been ''thrown to the wolves'' in the Origin pressure cooker before they were ready.
The halves battle between returning Newcastle star Jarrod Mullen and Raiders skipper Terry Campese shapes as crucial in Saturday afternoon's clash at Canberra Stadium.
Jarrod Mullen hasn't played since the Auckland Nines tournament in February. Photo: Jonathan Carroll
Both played one Origin for NSW, Campese in 2009 and Mullen in 2007, before the Blues went for other options.
Despite playing strongly in his debut Origin series last year and guiding the Roosters to the premiership, Maloney's slow start this season has reportedly put his spot in jeopardy, and the in-form Reynolds is applying pressure.
"I think it's crazy to be talking Origin [selection] at this stage, who knows what's going to happen the next six or seven weeks,'' Sterling said.
"I was very surprised at the conjecture, I guess it's because Reynolds and Maloney came up against each other last weekend.
"Obviously form needs to be a huge consideration and if you can't split blokes, maybe incumbency is what gets players over the line.''
Queensland has picked just two five-eighths, Johnathan Thurston and Darren Lockyer, in winning the past eight series, while NSW has used eight over the same period.
But Sterling says comparing the state's selection policies is unfair.
"I don't think it's really fair to compare what they do, to what we do,'' he said.
"Maybe in the past we've made some mistakes throwing some young blokes to the wolves before their time, and maybe not sticking solid with them enough, but I still don't think it's a fair comparison.
"Queensland probably don't have as many options as we have and have had, it's probably easier for them to stick solid.''
Sterling says Newcastle, who have won just one of their first five games, will rally under chief playmaker Mullen, who is to play his first NRL game of the year after badly injuring his hamstring in the Auckland Nines.
Star Knights fullback Darius Boyd also didn't play when Canberra won 26-20 at Newcastle in round two.
"I'm a huge fan of Jarrod Mullen, I've always felt a bit sorry for him stepping into the shoes of Andrew Johns at Newcastle and the comparisons made early on,'' Sterling said.
"His game has matured over the years and he'd handle Origin better now than what he did a few years ago.
"There's no doubt they're a much tougher team to beat with Jarrod Mullen in the line-up.''
Canberra coach Ricky Stuart agrees, and believes the Knights will get a mental boost out of his return.
"It does change the way they play, I think it will even change their team's mentality,'' he said.
"They'll have a lot of confidence knowing Jarrod's back and we've prepared all week that he'll play.
"He will make players around him better, but we've got to get our own backyard in order.
"They're a very talented footy team on the edges with BJ [centre Joey Leilua] and Dane Gagai on the other side, [Akuila] Uate and [James] McManus are rep players, and Boyd at the back.
"Their back five is very, very strong and we have to be good to match them.''
NRL round six: Canberra Raiders v Newcastle Knights at Canberra Stadium, 3pm
Tickets available from Ticketek