Johns anoints eight players NSW must pick for Origin
IF Matthew Johns was picking the NSW side for Origin I, five of the eight players he would guarantee selection would be rookies.
With St George Illawarra sitting pretty on top of the NRL ladder, Johns ran the rule over a handful of Dragons players banging down the door for a spot in the side.
He said Brad Fittler and his selection adviser Greg Alexander must pick Dragons forwards Tariq Sims, Jack De Belin, Cameron McInnes and Paul Vaughan in the 17, alongside Blues incumbent Tyson Frizell.
After locking in those five Dragons, Johns said he would also guarantee places to Melbourne's try-scoring machine Josh Addo-Carr, NSW skipper Boyd Cordner and Manly young gun Jake Trbojevic.
While he was supremely confident about the form of seven of those picks, Johns raised concerns about the form of Roosters star Cordner.
He said the star back-rower was still to develop the kind of telepathic understanding he had with Mitchell Pearce, with the club still adapting to a change in game style driven by the arrival of Cooper Cronk.
Perhaps of greater concern for the NSW side though, is Johns' view that the No.1 jersey is still up for grabs with leading contenders James Tedesco and Tom Trbojevic both down on confidence.
"Trbojevic's confidence is down and Tedesco's confidence is down too," Johns said.
"Two of those blokes. I reckon that jersey's still up for grabs. Tedesco or Trbojevic, whoever in the next couple of weeks finds their best form he'll be the one to get the jersey."
Here's what Johns said about the contenders for a sky blue jersey.
"Frizell was mighty on the weekend. There was a few points, to me he typified the Dragons on the weekend. He got the ball and he just wanted to hurt Melbourne with and without the ball.
"He did a couple of runs in a row and mate he just hit the line that hard and it just gave me such confidence going into this series."
"Tariq Sims' defence on playmakers - there's a couple of guys in the competition that really defend playmakers well, one is Wade Graham, he hurt that hamstring again, which is a real worry," Johns said.
"The other one is Tariq Sims. The ability to rush playmakers is a very, very important ingredient in big games.
"He gives penalties away for over-aggression sometimes but I don't think that's a huge concern, over-aggression in State of Origin. I'd rather a bloke be a little over-aggressive than go into it underdone."
JACK DE BELIN
"Certainty. Certainty. Just playing so good and I love the fact that about three weeks ago he come out and said, 'mate I'm ready to be picked, I'm ready for State of
Origin'. He's saying to Freddy, 'just pick me'.
"You've got to pick him."
"He's playing good football, he's playing as well as he did last year.
"He deserves his chance and he's putting monumental pressure on people like Klemmer and Woods so I think he'll get his chance."
"He's going to be there he's just in a bit of a tough spot at the moment, they're struggling with their style, they've got a lot of new combinations, he's relying on new playmakers in the side.
"Boyd's strength, he had a great combination with Mitchell Pearce, they understood each other very well, they operated on the same side of the field for a long time, they were great mates and that really worked well for both of them.
"He's missing him at the moment and he's just getting used to the new styles at the moment and things like that.
"Freddy will pick him. Freddy loves Boyd, he brought him up into the Roosters top squad when he was just a kid, so he'll be captain, he'll be picked.
"But it's where and how Freddy uses him. That'll be interesting."
"I think they'll go with McInnes as the starter and Cook off the bench with his speed for impact. Everyone you've mentioned so far as far as Dragons, I don't see a reason why Freddy won't pick them."
"He's got to be a certainty. On the weekend he's on the losing side he scores three tries, he would have had four if he got that try he deserved."
"I'm hearing people say you don't want to blood too many rookies, I understand that but we're not winning series. So are we just going to go with the guys who haven't done it before?
"Are we going to reward people who have been there and not done it?"
"This is a big game for him this week because he did a great job on GI (in Round 5) and that's who he'll mark in State of Origin. he did a great job about five weeks ago and that's really elevated his status in the game.
"He had a great game on the weekend against the Melbourne Storm, so put it this way, at ANZ Stadium this Sunday if he goes good against Inglis he's a certainty."
"Put him in, he's a lock because he's a great player and he adds to the group, he adds to the team. I look at Jake Trbojevic and his qualities, and he's got qualities that I think NSW need.
"That's the thing about NSW we've got wrong I think. I look at Queensland and I think, they look at attitude when they pick, as well as ability.
"I look at Glasby last year, would we have picked Glasby? They knew he could do a job, they knew he was of the right character.
"We look at body types, size, speed, we love the athletic ability. Start picking blokes with the right attitude like Jake Trbojevic."