Cronulla trio James Maloney, Jack Bird and Chad Townsend are all ready to pull on the NSW State of Origin jumper, according to NRL coach Shane Flanagan.
While Maloney is firming by the day to reclaim his Blues spot in the halves, Flanagan had no hesitation talking up the chances of Bird and Townsend being thrust into the cauldron against Queensland.
The Sharks mentor believes the 21-year-old Bird in particular could be a shock call-up when Blues coach Laurie Daley names his team after round 11.
“For me, he’s been outstanding this year and as a defensive centre, he’s been great. Doesn’t miss any tackles,” Flanagan said on Friday.
“He’s competitive, he’s made for the type of footy, and the pressure won’t get to him.
“The next two weeks for Jack’s going to be really important. He can play a lot of positions – can cover everywhere in the backline and can play at lock if he had to.
“He’s made for Origin. If it’s not this year – which I think he’s got a really good chance – it’ll definitely be down the track.”
Flanagan also made a case for Townsend, who is widely considered the most improved player in the game.
“He went to New Zealand, came back more mature, and his football’s showing this year,” he said.
“He’s got some good players around him and (Maloney is) helping him in that area. If Chad was to be given a chance to, he’d stand up and do the job for NSW as well.”
However Maloney is the one most favoured to join skipper Paul Gallen in camp on Monday week, having helped guide the Sharks to equal top spot on the ladder and fourth on differential.
Flanagan said Maloney was a game-winner.
“James is one of those characters that steps up come game time,” he said.
“He’s in good form at the moment, he’s got points in him, he’s a great goalkicker, and that arena’s not going to affect him. If Laurie wants to go that way with Jimmy, he’d be ready to go.”