Thursday, June 13, 2024

How Blues call exposed Luai double standard; ‘worship’ that can hurt QLD from within: Crawley

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It’s the State of Origin selection bombshell everyone in the game is walking on eggshells around because it involves one of the NRL’s nicest blokes.

But you’d be a fool to think there aren’t legitimate concerns there might be some mental scars for Nicho Hynes moving forward into his first Origin series wearing the NSW No 7 jumper.

New Blues coach Michael Maguire has seriously shown nerves of steel to ignore Hynes’ first half shocker in the Panthers’ 42-0 demolition of the NRL ladder leaders and still forge ahead with the Sharks’ star playmaker to partner Jarome Luai in the halves for this year’s series opener.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m backing Maguire’s judgement on this because I genuinely do believe it is the right call given Hynes has been among the NRL’s best throughout the first three months of the season.


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On top of that, the Blues’ were running out of options with Nathan Cleary and Mitchell Moses injured, while Cody Walker also didn’t play in the Rabbitohs’ win over the Eels (although Souths stand-in coach Ben Hornby said Walker would have been right to go if selected).

But just imagine if it was Luai who played as poorly as Hynes did on Saturday night in what was essentially spruiked all week to be a selection shootout.

Do you really think the polarising Panther would have escaped with such limited scrutiny?

Yet Luai’s selection was not even an argument on the back of a performance that would have Wests Tigers fans salivating the playmaker’s pending arrival next year, when he will get to play halfback on a regular basis.

On the flip side, Hynes was so out of sorts in the early exchanges you were entitled to think the pressure of the occasion got the better of him as he came up with four first half errors, including two kicks out on the full.

You couldn’t help but feel sorry for Nicho when he left the field for a head injury assessment with his Origin hopes seemingly in tatters (before being taken out of the game because of a calf injury).

Waking up Sunday morning many naturally assumed the minor injury to Hynes would be a convenient way for Maguire to change the running sheet and come up with a new plan.

To either select Bulldog Matt Burton (Luai’s former Panthers teammate) or the Roosters’ Luke Keary, who were basically the last men standing in the race to partner Luai.

While Burton and Keary were also named in the extended squad, Maguire still delivered a stunning show of faith when Hynes was named at halfback and Luai at five-eighth.

Now it’s up to Hynes to repay that faith.

Remember, Hynes didn’t exactly have the greatest initiation to Origin last year where he was coldly punted after coming off the bench in game one to play the final minutes in the centres.

Don’t expect Queensland to take it easy on Hynes just because he’s a nice guy.

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Now to the other NSW bombshells. And I’m not talking about James Tedesco’s axing to make way for Dylan Edwards, because I thought that was a formality.

But Maguire has again shown how big his kahunas are in leaving out Latrell Mitchell and Api Koroisau.

No doubt the South Sydney superstar has been nowhere near his best this season.

But as Ben Hornby said following Saturday night’s 42-26 win over the Eels when asked if he believed Mitchell deserved to be in the NSW team.

“I know who I wouldn’t want to be going against if I was playing,” Hornby said.

It’s a fair point if you really put your love or loathing of Latrell aside and focus on the issue of who the Maroons would least like to play.

Instead, Maguire opted for rugby-bound Joseph Suaalii in the centres and the Dragons Zac Lomax on the wing.

Both are tremendous talents and won’t die wondering.

But going back to Hornby’s statement, of the three who would Queensland least like to mark up against?

Maguire obviously didn’t have the same faith in Mitchell bouncing back to his best as he did with Hynes.

As for Koroisau’s omission, that’s as tough as it gets. In my books the 31-year-old is still the second best dummy half behind Harry Grant and in a struggling Tigers team continues to hold his head high. But good luck to Reece Robson who got a taste of Origin last year and looks purpose built for this arena.

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As for Tedesco’s omission, as tough a call as it was dropping the incumbent captain, it would have been an even greater travesty if the NRL’s best fullback for the past three seasons finished another Origin series without playing for NSW.

Sure, Teddy has been in terrific form this season after bouncing back from the disappointment of last year.

But you can’t ignore NSW has also lost the last two series, and it was time for a change.

As for the loyalty factor, Teddy got to play 22 consecutive Origins and will always be remembered as one of the Blues’ greats, arguably NSW’s best fullback of the Origin era.

But no one can deny Edwards hasn’t well and truly earned his shot, and his arrival was overdue.

Overall, it’s a strong NSW side given the injuries Maguire had to contend with.

The standout best decision was to name Jake Trbojevic as captain, which is a sure-fire way to bring immediate camaraderie and passion to this squad following Tedesco’s exit.


When you’re coming off back-to-back series wins as a State of Origin coach, you’re entitled to do what you darn well like when picking your team.

But Billy Slater has made a huge call electing to dump David Fifita for Jaydn Su’A as one of his starting backrowers, while Parramatta’s workaholic J’Maine Hopgood was also named on the bench ahead of the barnstorming Titan.

Su’A has been pretty good for the Dragons this year, but you’d hardly say he’s set the world on fire, particularly his form in more recent weeks.

Yet Fifita has had impressive numbers and was an absolute handful in the Titans’ shock comeback victory on Sunday where he terrorised the Broncos’ right edge.

Factor in Fifita started all three games last year in the 2-1 series victory. But he has now been punted to make way for Su’A who gets a Queensland recall after two years out in the cold.

The one thing you’d probably like to see from Fifita is a bit more mongrel. On a couple of occasions against the Broncos he even got up smiling with the opposition.

Su’A might not boast the same natural talent but he’d rather rip their heads off than share a joke. Maybe that’s what Slater is looking for given he also named veteran enforcer Felise Kaufusi on the extended bench ahead of Fifita in a squad that is missing the likes of tough guys Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Tom Gilbert and Thomas Flegler.

Maybe it’s time Fifita went and bought himself some Mongrel Boots from the local Tradies store.


Reece Walsh is a hell of a footballer but all this rock star worshipping is the biggest threat to potentially bringing him undone.

Which is why Billy Slater is exactly the man Walsh needs in his life right now to help take the young superstar’s game go to the next level.

Maybe he will start with getting Walsh to pull back on some of eagerness to go for the all-or-nothing play and replace it with a little bit more patience and willingness to play the long game.

What made Slater the greatest fullback the game has ever seen is that he combined Walsh-like brilliance and supersonic speed with a mental toughness and attention to detail that was unmatched in attack and defence.

That is the one area in Walsh’s game that needs to improve from what we’ve all seen this year.

Of course, he’s still only 21 and what he has done so far is extraordinary.

But it’s like the Broncos haven’t learned their lesson from what cost them victory in last year’s grand final, and it wasn’t a lack of talent.

There is no way they should have been beaten by the Titans after exploding out of the blocks like they did.

Then again, they would have won the grand final without moments like when Walsh went to sleep at marker in the dying minutes as Nathan Cleary strolled over for the match winning try. It wasn’t all Walsh’s fault, but he certainly contributed.

The point I’m making here is that you look at this Queensland side on paper and the fire power puts the Blues to shame. But after back-to-back series wins, cockiness and complacency could be the biggest dangers.

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