10 Origin Dark Horses
In the immortal words of Donald Sinclair in the comedy Rat Race – “you gotta love a longshot!”
Entering its 39th year, State of Origin has thrown up a wave of selection shocks both sides of the Tweed – starting off with Queensland’s shock selection in 1980 of Arthur Beetson from reserve grade. And from Ben Ikin to Adam Mogg to Tim Glasby in Maroon to Jamie Buhrer, Dylan Walker and Jarrod Mullen in Blue, it’s become tradition to look for the bolters who come from the clouds to earn their Origin nod.
We’ve got five potential bolters for both states ahead of game 1 – but first let’s lay some ground rules.
- Any bolter considered must have 0 Origin appearances – so Cameron Smith parachuting in does not count as a bolter
- Conversely, any current NRL player with 0 Origin appearances but already considered a strong chance is out of the equation – so no Luke Keary or Edrick Lee here
- These potential bolters must also be a plausible hope for selection – we’re not going to suggest Tom Opacic as a Queensland bolter just because he’s eligible, for example
We’ll give a scenario for each bolter to be selected in – and we want your feedback too. Who have we left out and who have we nailed? Let us know on our Facebook page.
Let’s count down our top five bolters for both defending champs NSW and Queensland.
NEW SOUTH WALES
5 – Dale Finucane
POSITION: Bench Forward
The likes of Cameron Murray and Victor Radley have been strongly mentioned as bench forward debutantes for coach Brad Fittler – so spare a thought for Melbourne’s most underrated forward Finucane. A member of five Grand Final sides, the Bega lock is a defensive workhorse who’s capable of an offload and would also be familiar with Queensland five-eighth Cameron Munster’s attack style.
Finucane would represent a vastly more experienced bench forward option than the two aforementioned youngsters and would also be capable of filling in on an edge if needed. He also would be a straight swap for Jake Trbojevic should anything happen to NSW’s incumbent lock. Finucane might suffer being out of sight and out of mind in Melbourne but NSW selectors should seriously be considering him come game one.
4 - Jarrod Croker
Barring injury Croker is on his way to becoming NRL’s highest point scorer after a decade toiling on Canberra’s left edge – and with NSW centres dropping like flies, he’d relish a chance to make a belated Origin debut. Wayne Bennett once said if Croker was a Queenslander he’d have debuted in Origin in his early 20s but instead Croker has had to watch as more celebrated attacking centres have gotten the nod. Croker likely would need to shift to a right centre if selected but he’d back himself as a prop if needed for his state.
3 – Jack Wighton
POSITION: Centre/Bench Utility
Wighton’s move from fullback to five-eighth has proven a godsend for his career – he’s hit the ground running and become the most important attacking player for the top four Raiders. Wighton is a darkhorse for the aforementioned centre position given his experience playing in the front line and has the added benefit of providing a big body in defence.
With Wighton’s ball-playing ability he’d have no issues linking with his winger and if selected as a bench utility would allow Fittler to not worry about shifting Latrell Mitchell out of his preferred centre position should anything happen to other outside backs. Considering Wighton’s NRL career was hanging by a thread late last season after off-field issues, it would represent a monumental turnaround for a man barely ten games into his new positional career to represent his state.
2 – Mitch Aubusson
POSITION: Centre/Bench Utility
The ultimate Mr Fix It would become one of the oldest Origin debutantes at 31 but opting for the veteran would solve many problems for Freddy. The Roosters stalwart would bring 272 games of NRL experience with him, including three Grand Finals and have ready-made combinations with clubmates like Boyd Cordner, Latrell Mitchell, Luke Keary, Angus Crichton and James Tedesco.
If selected at centre, Aubusson would do his job well in a position he’s played in regularly for the Roosters in 2019. If selected on the bench, Aubusson would bring utility value unmatched by any other Blues candidate. In the past few seasons alone he’s spent time on the wing, centre, five-eighth, hooker, back row and lock – all with his trademark professionalism. It’s incredible to think such a reliable player for a competition powerhouse is yet to earn high representative honours but with coach Fittler knowing what it’s like to work with the Ballina product from his time as Chooks coach, do not be shocked if Aubusson makes what might be the most overdue selection in recent memory.
1 – Payne Haas
POSITION: Bench Forward
This would be a true bolt from the blue – a 19 year old powerhouse who spent the first month of the season suspended with just eight NRL appearances overall. But Payne Haas would bring an aggression matched by very few others and makes for a scary proposition off the bench. It would be a huge selection call from Fittler to blood the Brisbane wrecking ball in the Origin cauldron but the impact Haas brings the Broncos is undeniable.
He’s already overtaken more established aggressors like Tevita Pangai Junior and Matt Lodge as the Broncos’ go-to enforcer in recent weeks and there’s no doubt Fittler would keep his instructions very simple for Haas off the bench – cause hell through the middle. The last time NSW had such a young but aggressive middle forward prospect was David Klemmer – who already is becoming a senior member of the NSW pack. What makes Haas a shock candidate is incumbent prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard now dropped by his NRL side Penrith. It’d be a gutsy call from Fittler to stick by RCG, and with Haas in impressive form, it’s worth keeping an eye on him before the NSW squad is announced.
5 – AJ Brimson
POSITION: Bench Utility
Brimson is unlikely to get this Origin moment this campaign but a shock callup for the Titans utility cannot be discounted purely because he shapes as the closest positional replacement Queensland have for Kalyn Ponga. We’re not comparing Brimson at his current stage of development to Ponga – who is a Dally M candidate – but Brimson does possess a running game from fullback whilst having the ability to ballplay in the halves.
Brimson has experience covering 1, 6 and 7 for the Titans and is highly regarded within the Queensland structure. Brimson on the bench would mean coach Kevin Walters a direct fullback replacement for Ponga if anything happened to the superstar fullback – avoiding a messy positional reshuffle - but also would mean Brimson could enter as an impact sub late in a game allowing Ponga to play in the front line, where he enjoyed far more success for Queensland last season than he did for Newcastle this season.
4 – Moses Mbye
POSITION: Bench Utility
Mbye is ahead of Brimson for this role – he’s been around camp before and has a significant experience advantage in comparison. Mbye has the added bonus of spending time as a dummy-half for both the Tigers and Bulldogs, allowing Josh McGuire to stay in his preferred lock position should anything happen to their hooker. Mbye is a captain at NRL club level and is gaining in form after an injury-impacted 2019 start.
3 – Corey Thompson
With Valentine Holmes now a New York Jet and Billy Slater in retirement, there’s a winger position up for grabs. And while Edrick Lee is believed to be first in line, it’s impossible to believe Tigers winger Thompson would let anyone down if he earned a shock selection. The fact Thompson is considered a bolter is no reflection of his talent – if anything he’s a victim of a low profile.
Perhaps the most unsung back in NRL, Thompson has been a regular tryscorer for clubs both in Australia and England, has big match experience through Grand Finals, could seamlessly slot into fullback and is a natural tryscorer. His height is a total opposite to established Maroons winger Corey Oates – but it’s not like being diminutive ever held Slater back.
2 – David Fifita
POSITION: Bench Forward
One of the Broncos’ most promising forwards, Fifita is a serious talent and at just 19 has already established himself as a must-watch prospect. He’s progressed through Queensland’s pathways in style, captaining their Under 16 and 18 teams while impressing veteran Bronco teammates with his work ethic. Walters is a fan of Fifita – he’s already publicly stated the backrower has the attitude to succeed in Origin and in Matt Gillett he has a mentor who’s been part of Queensland’s greatest era to learn from day in day out.
Fifita’s ability to make an impact off the bench is hugely promising and with his ability to cover centre, his bench value increases. The biggest indication the man with just 20 NRL appearances is worth considering as a bolter came in December when he was the youngest man named in Queensland’s Emerging Maroons squad. If Walters is looking for a powerful edge forward who’s building a reputation off making an immediate impact off the bench, Fifita will come under strong consideration.
1 – James Segeyaro
Segeyaro could well be the last hooker standing. A victim of Cronulla’s salary cap woes, he spent the start of 2019 as a Newtown Jet in NSW’s Canterbury Cup but through Andrew McCullough’s injury an opening has arisen both at his new club side Brisbane and also Queensland. It would be a massive shock if Segeyaro gets called up given his lack of NRL playing time but he would tick a lot of the boxes needed from an Origin dummy-half.
We know of his electric running game but perhaps even more importantly he’s a solid defender and provides reliable service to his first receiver. Walters and the Queensland selectors might feel forced to shift Ben Hunt to hooker to solve his 9 dilemma but if they get cold feet about having a makeshift solution to arguably his side’s most important position – and assuming one C. Smith doesn’t make an Alfie Langer-style comeback – Segeyaro is the most experienced Queensland natural dummy-half with the best pedigree available.