Why Michael Maguire must start fresh in selecting this year’s Blues Origin team, and the mix must be just right


For Michael Maguire getting the mix of players correct is as important as anything else he will do to start his job as the Blues Origin coach.

Just like mixing a batch of concrete to pour for a solid foundation, the ingredients and mix ratio are important for what the Blues want to build this series.

So wipe the slate clean; there are no incumbents and there is no captain.

Maguire must start fresh. I don’t believe he should go so far as to put a broom through the squad and pick a team full of debutants but who he selects in each position and the composition of his bench will make or break Madge in his first series as NSW coach.

In particular, who Madge selects on the Blues bench is going to be vital for a NSW victory.

The new Blues coach must get the mix of players right just as he needs a team of men with a passion for wearing the sky blue jersey and winning for NSW.

We have seen in recent Origin series the selection process hasn’t got the mix right, especially on the bench. NSW had some players who only played a small amount of minutes or were placed into positions they hadn’t played since their junior league days.

These decisions had an effect on results and it was obvious to most that the player mix wasn’t up to the test of Origin – plus the use of some players and the interchange bench was incorrect in my opinion.

Maroons coach Billy Slater and NSW Blues coach Michael Maguire at the State of Origin Launch at the MCG. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Hopefully, Michael Maguire will do his homework and these mistakes won’t be repeated.

I believe NSW must dominate the Queensland forwards to win and the bench will be a big part of the Blues ability to do this.

There are plenty of good outside backs to choose from for NSW but without field position and getting on the front foot, they won’t be able to showcase their attacking abilities.

Even without Nathan Cleary, New South Wales has enough talent in the halves to unlock the outside backs, they just need their forwards to run hard, tackle hard and bend back the Maroons’ defence.

So what does the right mix look like?

Well, they all need to ‘bleed blue’ for starters, but after the pathology has been confirmed then add a team-first mentality, military-like discipline, controlled aggression, a never-say-die attitude, toughness, focus and some individual brilliance with a pinch of ability to take a risk when opportunities are presented.

Also, NSW needs players who will do the one-percenters for the whole 80 minutes, and all players need to be in form and injury-free. NSW cannot afford to select any players with a question mark hanging over them.

The right mix for the NSW squad might not be the same for everyone and there could be multiple mixes that can beat QLD.

But when selecting the squad I would not consider Latrell Mitchell for Game 1. Many might disagree but I feel his head is not in the right space and there’s a doubt about his desire to play for NSW at the moment.

Then we have injuries that rule out players like Nathan Cleary, Cameron Murray and Tom Trbojevic.

There are also question marks about Mitchell Moses and Bradman Best at the time of writing this article.

So who gets selected to make the right mix for the Blues?

Fullback – One of the hardest decisions for Michael Maguire must be who to pick as the NSW fullback. NSW is spoilt for riches in this position.

But for me the man that must wear the number 1 jersey for NSW is Dylan Edwards. Edwards is one of the best for kick return meters, run meters and tackle breaks plus he’s solid in defence.

Edwards has been at the top of his game this season, he thoroughly deserves the fullback position with his consistent performances over the last four years and I believe he is tough, reliable and is an Origin player.

I even think Billy Slater would choose him over Walsh and Ponga if he was a Queenslander.

The Panthers strike in the opening two minutes! ????#NRLWarriorsPanthers pic.twitter.com/rmILoD12Dz

— NRL (@NRL) May 19, 2024

Wingers – Another hotly contested position will be the wing. I think To’o and Lomax are the Blues’ best options.

Both are tackle busters and are among the best in running meters, plus both are in form and will be a handful for the Queensland team from anywhere on the field, especially on kick returns.

Plus Lomax is a huge threat on attacking kicks and can play other positions like centre or fullback if there are injuries.

Centres – This is a position that Maguire must be giving a lot of thought to. I think good defensive players are crucial in this position.

Izack Tago, Jesse Ramien, Stephen Crichton and Bradman Best are the top options. I believe that any of these four players would perform well if picked.

Ramien and Tago are in good form, arguably in the better form out of the four. This is a difficult decision but I am going to select Crichton and Best simply because they are the incumbents and deserve to be selected again.

But I would not select a player with a question mark on their hamstring. We have seen this year too many players go down with hamstring injuries and Origin is too important to take a gamble on a player with doubt over their hamstring.

So at the moment of writing this, I’m going to have to select Jesse Ramien at right centre and move Crichton to left centre, where I think he is more effective.

Ramien is big, tough and a strong defender who can help get NSW on the front foot and he will require plenty of attention from the Queensland defence.

Five-Eighth – Top contenders are Matt Burton, Nicho Hynes, Jarome Luai and Cody Walker.

For me, there are really only two players I’m looking at in this position. Burton and Hynes. Both bigger body options are in form and bring their own skill set to the table.

However with better tries and line-break assists so far this season and with his form back to when he won the Dally M, I’m taking Hynes as my number 6 into the first game.

I believe he deserves to show what he can do in the Origin arena after the way he was unfairly treated in last year’s Origin series.

Hynes can also play Halfback and if Moses is unavailable at halfback then I would move Hynes to halfback and bring in Burton at 6. The Bulldog has been in solid form and has a big boot to add to the kit bag for NSW.

Nicho Hynes earns another Player of the Week for 2024, this time steering the Sharks to a Magic Round win over the Roosters ????

The No.7 had two try assists, three linebreak assists, seven goals from seven attempts, 92 run metres, 21 tackles and 440 kick metres ????#ForeverBlue pic.twitter.com/2DXxg27MBY

— NSWBlues (@NSWBlues) May 20, 2024

Halfback – Possibly one of the most important positions is under a huge cloud.

The man all NSW supporters hoped would be there is unavailable. However, there are still two handy halfbacks in contention for the number 7 jersey.

If Mitchell Moses plays in Round 12, plays well, and gets through 80 minutes of footy injury-free, then I would select Moses. If not, I would select Hynes at halfback.

Hooker – I think this position is a race between two, Reece Robson and Blayke Brailey. Both are in form and are 80-minute players who are solid defenders.

I would select Robson because I like his toughness and he proved last year that he’s up to Origin.

Robson is a good defender and even though he has been playing in a team that has leaked lots of points he has made plenty of tackles with few missed.

If I was to select Blayke Brailey then I would start with Cameron McInnes at 9 and Brailey on the interchange bench.

Props – Payne Haas, Mitch Barnett, Jacob Saifiti, Stefano Utoikamanu, Junior Paulo, Taniela Paseka and Terell May are some of NSW’s top props.

The two front rowers must get the Blues on the front foot and be powerful in attack and defence.

Payne Haas would have to be the first picked. Payne’s partner must form a damaging one-two punch for New South Wales.

Payne Haas scored this insane individual try against the Panthers! ????#NRLThrowback pic.twitter.com/o5Pd4HxT2H

— NRL (@NRL) March 21, 2024

I think Jacob Saifiti and Taniela Paseka are the top contenders to start the opening 20 minutes. I would select Jacob Saifiti because he has been there before and I think he’s a better defender.

Second row – Haumole Olakau’atu, Angus Crichton, Liam Martin and Keaon Koloamatangi are in the mix.

I think Olakau’atu and Crichton pick themselves for the Blues in this position.

Both have been a powerhouse to start the season and both are punishing in attack and defence.

Lock – Isaah Yeo or Jake Trbojevic. Tough choice and I think both deserve to be in the team. I would choose Isaah Yeo as my lock and Captain to start the game.

Yeo is a better ball runner who can give NSW the best possibility for a good start and help win the yardage battle. Yeo is also a great leader.

Interchange – So many choices and combinations are possible here.

But I believe the mix of players on the bench is vitally important and this is where the game could be won or lost.

For the number 14, I would have Cameron McInnes because he can play in the middle and hooker and he’s tough with the hard-working ethic required in Origin.

Jake Trbojevic is another tough 80-minute middle who will tackle himself to a stand-still and has a passing game, plus he is a proven performer in Origin.

Jake Trbojevic. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Mitch Barnett also gets a spot on my bench because I like his tough and aggressive style and he’s a damaging forward who can play in the middle or on an edge.

The final spot isn’t so easy to choose, I’m torn between several players but I settled on Euan Aitken. Aitken is in good form and can play back row or centre, he is an 80-minute effort player and is a great defender.

18th Man – This was a surprisingly difficult decision for me. But if Matt Burton doesn’t start in the halves then he gets 18th man.

If Burton plays, then Jesse Ramien would be the 18th man if Bradman Best fully recovers from his hamstring strain, but if Ramien plays then Terrell May gets the number 18 jersey.

May is another skilled workhorse, great defender, has an offload and is a specialist this year in coming off the bench and providing punch in the middle.

May was unlucky to miss a spot on my bench in place of Euan Aitken but I needed a player with more versatility for my final spot.

19th Man – Mitchell Moses has to be in the NSW Squad if he isn’t ready to play Game 1. He needs to be in camp with the team for the experience to learn and in case of injury during the series.

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My Predicted right mix for the NSW Squad is:

1. Dylan Edwards
2. Brian To’o
3. Jesse Ramien / Stephen Crichton
4. Stephen Crichton / Bradman Best
5. Zac Lomax
6. Nicho Hynes / Matt Burton
7. Mitchell Moses / Nicho Hynes
8. Jacob Saifiti
9. Reece Robson
10. Payne Haas
11. Haumole Olakau’atu
12. Angus Crichton
13. Isaah Yeo (Captain)
14. Cameron McInnes
15. Jake Trbojevic
16. Mitch Barnett
17. Euan Aitken
18. Matt Burton / Jesse Ramien / Terrell May
19. Mitchell Moses

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