Former NSW five-eighth James Maloney is expected to earn a Blues recall after starting the season strongly with his new club, Cronulla. The Sharks sit in equal first position on the ladder after posting six consecutive wins – and that run of form has been under the guidance of the experienced Maloney. His try against the Broncos last weekend was vintage Maloney; the show and go is one of the Sharks’ pivot’s trademark plays and to do it against the best defensive team in the competition is testament to his form this year. The rumblings north of the border indicate the Maroons would be quietly licking their lips at the prospect of Maloney playing Origin once again. But Queensland may well rethink that thought with the 29-year-old hitting career best form at just the right time. A strong display for Country could seal his return to State of Origin rugby league.
You could be forgiven for thinking how a coach could make the playing group for representative round. But no, it is not the Newcastle coach in his comeback match; it’s the inked-up South Sydney back rower making his representative debut. Nathan Brown has been a revelation off the bench for the Rabbitohs this season; providing spark with his aggressive defensive style and his determined runs with the ball in hand. Last week against the Wests Tigers, Souths were largely disappointing but if one player could hold their head high, it would be the 23-year-old. The majority of the Bunnies’ forwards lacked energy but Brown was like a kid on red cordial when he entered the arena. The former Tiger is second behind Sam Burgess in offloads for South Sydney this season but State of Origin selection could be some time away with the amount of depth in the Blues’ forwards.
Former Dragon Jack Bird has had his wings clipped this season, after playing all his matches in the centres after starting at five-eighth for the Sharks throughout the majority of 2015. The 21-year-old will be given a more dominant role at halfback for Country alongside Sharks teammate James Maloney. The more ball the hard-running utility has in his hands means a greater danger for opposition teams. Up against his Cronulla colleague, Chad Townsend, Bird’s credentials for a State of Origin debut could hinge on his performance against City on Sunday. The Blues, in recent seasons, have gone with four forwards on the bench, but Bird could be the man to change Laurie Daley’s tactics after they were trounced 52-6 in the deciding match at Suncorp Stadium last year. The fact Bird can play anywhere in the backline would give Daley greater versatility on the bench for the 2016 Origin series.
The son of former Blues legend Paul Sironen, Curtis is highly regarded within his club, the Wests Tigers. He has good pedigree and has been a consistent performer for the Tigers at NRL level since he made his debut in 2012. He has been a certain selection for City in the representative round for a number of years and his versatility has been a contributing factor to that. The 22-year-old is considered long odds to make his State of Origin debut this year but a Blues jersey down the track is definitely not out of the equation. Sironen can play anywhere from five-eighth to second row or lock forward. With continued improvement and development, New South Wales Origin coach Laurie Daley would most likely find it difficult to overlook Sironen for a bench role in the not too distant future, especially with the amount of broad utility value he offers.
After missing the first seven matches of the season through injury, Boyd Cordner’s return for the Roosters breathed new life into a beaten Roosters forward pack. He is one of the few selections in this fixture to have worn a New South Wales State of Origin jersey, which in terms of Laurie Daley’s selection trends, is a huge advantage for the hulking 23-year-old second rower. In fact, Cordner is the only person playing in the City-Country fixture to have held aloft the Origin shield after making his debut for the Blues in Game III of the 2014 match. While the Blues were beaten in that Suncorp Stadium game, Cordner’s performance was enough to maintain his place in Daley’s team in all three games of last year’s series. Cordner’s comeback for the Roosters at NRL level was considered as vital as teammate Mitchell Pearce’s and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves’s to many league experts.
Parramatta Eels hooker Nathan Peats is no stranger to representative rugby league, having played for the Indigenous All-Stars twice and for City Origin on three occasions. Peats has been a pivotal cog in the Eels’ success this season, despite suffering a dislocated elbow in the Eels’ second round victory over North Queensland. While Parramatta is currently a club in damage control over the alleged breaches of the NRL’s heavily policed salary cap, it is yet to be seen how the rulings affect the players at the club. The fact Peats has overcome adversity with a number of serious injuries; it would only make sense for the steely-eyed rake to put on a performance worthy of State of Origin selection this weekend. He is currently in a four horse race to don the famous Blues number 9 jersey with incumbent hooker Michael Ennis, Blues vice-captain Robbie Farah and halfback-turned-hooker Peter Wallace.