NSW coach Laurie Daley is set to gamble on under-fire halfback Trent Hodkinson when he announces his team for State of Origin Game I on Tuesday.
The Bulldogs playmaker has failed to spark in 2015 and was criticised heavily by Blues legend Andrew Johns for his subpar performance against the Sydney Roosters just last Friday.
But Daley is expected to show huge faith in the man who scored the series-clinching try last year, partnering him in a new-look combination with recalled Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce, set to be named out of position at five-eighth.
It will be the first time in Daley’s tenure that he goes without a club combination in the halves.
Pearce has been in great form, meriting a return after his previous long tenure in the Blues halves failed to produce a series win, but neither he nor Hodkinson has ever played out of position in their NRL careers.
It means Daley will be rolling the dice, gambling that he can work some Origin camp magic and turn the pair into a match-winning combination in a week.
“Trent Hodkinson will be there, there’s no doubt about that,” injured Blues skipper Paul Gallen said on 2DayFM on Monday.
The Blues have suffered a tumultuous build-up to this year’s series.
Fullback Jarryd Hayne is attempting to get a start in the NFL, incumbent halves Reynolds and Hodkinson have struggled, and veteran forward Greg Bird was suspended for the entire series.
The biggest setback however is a mysterious hip injury to skipper Gallen, who was officially ruled out of the series-opener last week.
North Queensland and Kangaroos front-rower James Tamou will take Gallen’s spot in the run-on side, while Dragons fullback Josh Dugan will beat out Penrith gun Matt Moylan after a string of solid outings.
Parramatta flyer Will Hopoate is set to partner Daniel Tupou on the wing.
The main conjecture surrounds the bench, of which would-be debutants Josh Jackson, Tyson Frizell, Joel Thompson and David Klemmer battle Boyd Cordner and Andrew Fifita for three spots.
Veteran Luke Lewis is expected to fill the utility role.
Around 20,000 tickets remain for the sole Origin fixture in Sydney this year, with bookmakers installing Queensland as slight favourites.
Likely NSW team: Josh Dugan, Will Hopoate, Michael Jennings, Brett Morris, Daniel Tupou, Mitchell Pearce, Trent Hodkinson, Aaron Woods, Robbie Farah (c), James Tamou, Beau Scott, Ryan Hoffman, Trent Merrin. Res: Luke Lewis, Andrew Fifita, Boyd Cordner, David Klemmer.