MICHAEL HAGAN: The silent assassin who can tear Maroons apart – and how Madge’s Kiwi blueprint can shake up Origin


The selection of Dylan Edwards has the potential to transform NSW and be the icing on the cake for Michael Maguire’s strategy that worked so well for New Zealand last year when they upset the Kangaroos. 

I see the battle of the fullbacks as being the crucial element to next Wednesday night’s game at Accor Stadium with Reece Walsh needing to step up in attack for Queensland with Cameron Munster out.

There’s no secret about Maguire’s methods with the side he’s picked. From the back five to the pack he’s selected a lot of big powerful bodies.

He used that strategy in the Pacific Championships final last year against Australia and came away with an impressive 30-0 victory and when a side gets on a roll like that, it can be hard to turn the tide.

Edwards has been banging down the door for a few seasons and NSW have been loyal to James Tedesco, who has been an outstanding player for a long time. 

When Billy Slater retired he took over as the game’s best fullback but now another player has come along who is playing better and that’s the long and the short of it.

I actually think Tedesco’s efforts for the Roosters this year has been better than what he was doing last year but Edwards has been the form player of the competition for some time.

He’s up the top of the Dally M leaderboard by himself after 12 rounds and it wouldn’t surprise me if he won it.

At club level with Penrith he’s been playing at a really high level for three or four years. I had a bit to do with him when he played for the Kangaroos at the end of last year and it was always a matter of time that he would get a chance at Origin level.

He will excel in the Origin environment. Kick reception is so important in these games, getting off to strong starts to your sets and when you put Edwards alongside Brian To’o and Zac Lomax at the back with Stephen Crichton and Joseph Suaalii making strong carries out of yardage, it will be a pretty potent combination to stop.

Penrith have been the dominant team in that regard and Edwards has been crucial to that success. 

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Edwards is not the biggest, fastest or strongest but he’s so deceptive. He’s the hardest to handle and the most effective in a kick reception role or broken field play out of anyone in the NRL.  

It’s all about his late footwork at speed and his underlying strength when he hits the line.

If you under-budget for him defensively, he will break the tackle and he will often then get the ball another five metres or so down the field after he’s been tackled, then get a quick play-the-ball.

At Accor Stadium, where it can get slippery under foot in night matches, he has a tremendous record for Penrith.

And because he’s super fit, what he’s doing in the first minute of play is what he’s still doing in the 80th in attack and defence. 

He reads the play so well in defence that he can motor across the back to be exactly where he needs to be and then when possession turns he’s one of the first to take a carry into the teeth of the opposition.

With a lot of ball-playing forwards in the NSW line-up, he will be sniffing around, ready to back up any offload through the middle.

Edwards also rarely makes an error even though he handles the ball so much and Walsh can still come up with the odd mistake so the Maroons will need him to tighten that up.

I’m sure Billy will be in his ear at Origin camp about being smart with his execution and also turning up in the right spots in defence because Origin is usually about the tries you stop more than the ones you score.

The Maroons are famous for the spirit they have in their camp but Maguire has shown with the New Zealand Test team over the past few years that he’s very good at getting that emotional connection within the group.

It was noticeable how his Kiwi teams were willing to work for each other and Origin is all about that.

His game plan will start with Payne Haas getting the team on the front foot in the middle and then he’s got plenty of size with Spencer Leniu, Hudson Young and Haumole Olakau’atu to bring off the bench to keep pounding into Queensland. And he has a number of tireless workers, including Reece Robson, Cam McInnes, Jake Trbojevic and Isaah Yeo in the middle third.

I think the Maroons may be a big body shy in their squad. They’ve got Moeaki Fotuaika and J’maine Hopgood as middles on their bench with Harry Grant and Selwyn Cobbo to cover the spine and the backs. I reckon they might bring Felise Kaufusi onto the bench to cover the middle and edges although they probably see someone like Reuben Cotter playing on the edge if one of their second-rowers gets injured.

Reece Walsh. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

It’s a surprise that David Fifita didn’t get selected – I thought his form the past few weeks since he sorted out his Roosters backflip has been pretty strong. They are also missing some experienced big forwards in Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Corey Horsbrough and Tom Flegler from last year.

The rest of the team was pretty straightforward. Tommy Dearden did remarkably well when he filled in for Munster at five-eighth in the final game of the 2022 series and with Val Holmes, Murray Taulagi and Jeremiah Nanai they could look at having an all Cowboys left edge to help with their combinations.

Walsh has built up a nice combination with Daly Cherry-Evans, Benny Hunt and Harry Grant around the ruck so that’s an advantage but he’s going to be coming up against two of the best edge back-rowers in Liam Martin and Angus Crichton. So there won’t be too many gaps there for him to exploit.

Billy’s influence on Walsh has been magnificent, on when to take the tackle and when to pull the trigger. 

Both fullbacks will feature heavily on each coach’s tip sheet and whoever can come up with the game plan to limit their effectiveness will be the one smiling when the full-time siren sounds at Accor Stadium next Wednesday night.

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