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Let's Talk Origin - the back three
This week we take a look at the fullbacks and wingers in contention to line up in this year's series opener.
While it's true a large part of the battle for field position is won and lost through the middle, the forwards won't be given much of a chance to roll forward if their back three can't get them off to a good start to their sets. Coming out of trouble is a crucial part of any Origin battle and it's imperative the fullbacks and wingers are able to make early metres and get a quick play the ball.
For wingers, being able to finish off try-scoring opportunities and being safe under the high ball are their main other jobs, whilst the fullbacks in today's game are a crucial part to any team's attack. Being able to hit holes through the middle as well as chime into the backline and ball-play often makes the difference come the final whistle.
INCUMBENTS - QLD
DARIUS BOYD (FULLBACK) - Played all three games at the back for the Maroons last year as well as five Tests for the Kangaroos and did an outstanding job. The newly appointed Broncos Captain has again been strong this year and is arguably the best custodian in the game today, but with the return of Origin legend Billy Slater this year, Boyd looks most likely to revert back to the wing. With 16 tries in 23 appearances for the Maroons in that position, it's not a bad option for Coach Kevin Walters to have.
COREY OATES & DANE GAGAI (WINGERS) - Both had strong series on the wing for the Maroons last year playing all three games. Gagai looks set for a move to his more natural position in the centres which accommodates the likely move of Boyd to the flanks. That leaves Oates in a battle with an incumbent Australian winger (more on him later) to retain his place. The towering Broncos wingman was strong throughout last year's series coming up with some strong and often courageous charges when his team was on the back foot. Has been solid for the Broncos this year averaging 165 metres per game, though his seven errors for the year or one per game must be of some concern to Coach Walters.
THE RECALLED - QLD
BILLY SLATER (FULLBACK) - Now five games into what seemed at times an unlikely comeback from two major shoulder surgeries in the past two years, Slater looks every bit the attacking genius he once was. Whilst he's still getting some of the timing back into his combinations with Storm and Maroons team mates Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk, he still has all the natural footballing instincts and his blistering speed off the mark that can turn a game on its head. In his five games back has still managed to conjure up 4 try-assists, 20 tackle busts and 9 offloads to prove while ever he's still lacing his boots he will remain a constant threat to opposition defenders. With 27 Origin games of quality service to his state, walks back into the number one jersey if fit and well.
THE ROOKIE - QLD
VALENTINE HOLMES (WING) - At the tender age of 21 and in the space of two months last year, the Sharks whiz kid lifted a Premiership trophy and donned the green and gold colours in four tests at the end of last year in Australia's Four Nations campaign. Has played the majority of this year at the back for the Sharks coming up with 3 line-break assists, 4 line-breaks and an average 175 metres. Any Maroons call-up this year though would likely come on the wing where he achieved such great heights last year. Has all the attributes to make a big impression in the Origin arena with his freakish finishing ability, blistering pace and fearless attitude to charge into the defensive line coming out of trouble.
INCUMBENTS - NSW
JAMES TEDESCO (FULLBACK) - After a strong showing in his long awaited debut in game three last year, the Tigers custodian is considered by most as a lock for the number one jersey. Has had plenty of off field distractions to contend with but hasn't let it affect his on field performance. With 7 line-break assists, 5 line-breaks, an average 174 running metres and a league high 53 tackle busts, Teddy is still showcasing his all-round game to pose a constant threat whenever the ball enters his talented hands.
JOSH MANSOUR & BLAKE FERGUSON (WINGERS) - After a freak training accident in the Four Nations late last year ruptured his ACL, Mansour won't be back until Round 12 at the earliest ruling him out of the series opener at least. Ferguson, his wing partner from last year has hardly caught the eye for the Roosters in the opening seven weeks, but after being in similar form before being picked last year, is every chance of retaining his sky blue jersey. Did a solid job for the Blues last year with his big frame coming out of trouble and was crowned the Kangaroos best in their Four Nations victory last year proving he can perform on the big stage.
THE RECALLED - NSW
BRETT MORRIS (WING) - It feels like this bloke has been donning the sky blue jersey for years and while 12 Origin appearances is nothing to shirk at, he could have as many as 21 if not for a troubled run with injury over the years, including missing the entire series last year. Has again been strong for the Bulldogs this year with 3 tries, 5 line-breaks and 20 tackle busts to his name. Has served his State admirably over the years and knows what it takes to be an Origin player. There's plenty of strong outside backs coming through the ranks in NSW, but Morris can still finish with the best of them. If Coach Laurie Daley is looking for his stability or even just someone to fill the void until Mansour is back and raring to go, than Morris is his man.
THE ROOKIE - NSW
TOM TRBOJEVIC (WING) - With 3 tries, 9 line-breaks 4 try-assists, 26 tackle busts and an average 169 metres per game, Turbo Tom is absolutely braining them to be the form fullback of the competition this year. Looks more likely to challenge for a wing spot this year though where he played the majority of last year for the Sea Eagles and new selection advisor Peter Sterling has already stated he'd have no problem recommending him to Coach Daley for a spot on the Blues flanks. Strong, athletic, fast, good hands, footwork and a natural nose for the game, the Manly flyer would make an impact wherever selected.
THE BOLTER - NSW
DAVID NOFOALUMA (WING) - After receiving his representative debut for City last year, the Tigers winger was ruled out of that contest in the opening exchangers after suffering a heavy concussion, effectively bringing an end to his Origin dreams for the year. Towards the back end of the season though, Nofoaluma transitioned into the determined tackle busting machine we see today. Has been one of the form wingers of the competition with 6 line-breaks, an average 168 running metres, a whopping 51 tackle busts (second only to team mate Tedesco) and in a rare feat for a winger - a league high 23 offloads. Running mostly out of dummy half coming out of trouble, his determination, strength and leg drive make his game tailor made for the Origin arena.