Former New South Wales coach Laurie Daley has picked his ideal Blues squad ahead of next week’s series opener and has added a host of debutants including Clive Churchill Medal winner Ryan Papenhuyzen, whom he “had to find a position for.”
Daley’s side features a number of familiar faces including James Tedesco, Damien Cook, Nathan Cleary, Boyd Cordner and Josh Addo-Carr but he’s shaken things up with four debutants in Papenhuyzen, Luke Keary, Junior Paulo and Clint Gutherson.
Daley, who coached NSW from 2013 to 2017, wanted to reward Eels skipper Gutherson and Melbourne’s Papenhuyzen for their stellar seasons.
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Gutherson, 26, was Parramatta’s most consistent player throughout 2020 and finished second on the Dally M count, just one point behind the winner, Jack Wighton.
Daley was so impressed by Gutherson’s season he’s picked him out of position, in the centres, ahead of regular centres Zac Lomax and Stephen Crichton.
He feels similarly about Papenhuyzen who has skyrocketed into superstar status in his first full year in Melbourne’s No.1 jersey and has picked the 22-year-old as the bench utility.
“In the centres this is where I struggled a little bit but I wanted to find a position for one bloke. I’ve got Jack Wighton at centre and I’ve also got Clint Gutherson, I’ve got Gutherson playing centre just ahead of Zac Lomax and Stephen Crichton,” Daley told Big Sports Breakfast.
“I had to find a position for Ryan Papenhuyzen, I couldn't put him in at fullback and Gutherson had to be in the squad somewhere as well so I wanted to try and find a position for both of those players, they’ve had massive years.”
Daley has opted for long-term form and proven big game experience in the No.6 jersey by selecting Luke Keary. The three-time premiership winning five-eighth and 2018 Clive Churchill Medal winner is more than deserving of a NSW debut and would have gotten one last year had he not been injured during the Origin period.
Cody Walker’s back end of the season entered him into the conversation but it’s Keary’s consistent form over the last three seasons that has nudged him ahead for Daley.
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“I’ve gone for Keary given the fact that he has been probably the dominant No.6 for a number of years,” he said.
“I could have made a case for Jack Wighton. I think if there were more centres available I probably would have gone Jack because I think Jack deserves an opportunity at No.6, but to fit Jack in and another No.6 in I went with Keary.
“There’s no denying that Cody Walker was the best player in the last six to eight weeks of the comp but I just think Keary deserves an opportunity.”
In the front row Daley has selected Eels big man Junior Paulo to make his debut and has shifted Trbojevic from lock.
“(Paulo) is a very good player. It gives them a bit of size, leg speed, ball-playing ability as well,” he said.
“Then you’ve got Jake Trbojevic, he’s not the same size as Junior Paulo but he’s got a bit of ball-playing ability and you know what you’re going to get with Jake. You don’t have to worry about him.
Replacing Trbojevic in the No.13 jersey, he has Storm workhorse Dale Finucane.
“I thought (Finucane) was excellent in the grand final. You just know what you’re going to get from Dale Finucane and he’s a bigger body than Cam Murray so you’d look to probably start Finucane.
“Get him out there, get him involved early and then bring Cam Murray on early and let him play the rest of the game. Then use Finucane maybe as one of your rotations for your No.8 or No.10 position.”
While NSW coach Brad Fittler has a smorgasbord of talent to choose from, Queensland’s coaching duo Wayne Bennett and Mal Meninga aren’t so lucky. Injuries have put key players in doubt or completely ruled them out.
But Daley believes regardless of that, the series won’t be a whitewash.
“I think it’ll be tighter than most people think,” he said.
“The last couple of years I’ve been confident NSW would win, but there’s just something about Wayne Bennett and Mal Meninga being back in charge of this Queensland team... and Queensland being underdogs. I don’t think it’ll be three-nil, I think it’ll be a lot tighter than most of us think.”
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LAURIE DALEY’S BLUES TEAM
1. James Tedesco
2. Nick Cotric
3. Clint Gutherson
4. Jack Wighton
5. Josh Addo-Carr
6. Luke Keary
7. Nathan Cleary
8. Junior Paulo
9. Damien Cook
10. Jake Trbojevic
11. Boyd Cordner
12. Tyson Frizell
13. Dale Finucane
14. Cameron Murray
15. Payne Haas
16. Reagan Campbell-Gillard
17. Ryan Papenhuyzen