If it were up to the greatest player to pull on a NSW jersey, half of this year’s State of Origin team would be filled with baby-faced rookies.
Origin may be two months away, but Blues great Andrew Johns has already pencilled in his team for game one, with Canberra’s halves pair Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer among a remarkable seven new faces.
“A lot of the Queensland players are coming to the end so I think it’s an important year – we can get a head start on Queensland and blood some of these young guys,” Johns said on The Sunday Footy Show.
Rising stars Tom Trbojevic and James Roberts would also be blooded in a new-look backline for the June 1 encounter, together with forwards Tyson Frizell, Bryce Cartwright and Wade Graham.
Johns was undecided between naming an eighth debutant in James Tedesco, or staying with incumbent Josh Dugan in the critical spot at fullback, but wasn’t afraid of going with a rookie halves pairing.
“NSW have always played best when they’ve had a big body at five-eighth, a running five-eighth. (Brad) Fittler, (Laurie) Daley, those sort of players,” he said.
“Austin’s a running five-eighth, and I’ve picked Sezer with his kicking game. He’s a left footer, cool under pressure, and the big thing is for these two guys is that they play together at club level.”
Johns, who played 23 games for the NSW, was confident Blues selectors would pick St George Illawarra forward Frizell, but were unlikely to select Manly winger Trbojevic.
“I don’t think he’s ready for Origin but he’s going to be there over the next 10 years,” he said.
Retiring Blues skipper Paul Gallen admitted the squad needed some fresh blood, and that finding the right halves was crucial.
“We need some young guys, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.
“Obviously the halves is the biggest issue. A lot of the guys are actually injured at the moment. They’ll be back in the next few weeks. Origin’s two months away, so there’s plenty of football for them to actually play.”
Queensland legend Darren Lockyer made just one change to his team for game one at ANZ Stadium, naming Brisbane winger Corey Oates to fill a hole in the backline following the retirement of Justin Hodges.
“Kyle Feldt’s the other one up in North Queensland but I think Corey… he’s a young, but he’s ready. The thing about him is he actually gets the set off to a good start,” Lockyer said.