NRL Round Table: Attrition making Origin selection tough

Each week ESPN's resident NRL experts will take a look at the burning issues in rugby league and try to come up with the answers. Their opinions might not match yours, but they should certainly spark further debate on the latest conundrums facing the game we all love.

Name your squads for State of Origin I.

Lucie: Being an Origin selector is tough in 2021, between injuries, suspensions and talented fullbacks both states have headaches for match one. For the Blues, the main issue was how to include five Origin standard No.1's. James Tedesco, the team's captain, is a certainty to retain the jersey, while I've named Manly star Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell in the centres. With Ryan Papenhuyzen ruled out with concussion, Parramatta's Clinton Gutherson steps onto the bench as utility. The Blues can ill afford to ignore Penrith's 11-0 form and lethal combinations, so I've named Jarome Luai to make his Blues debut and partner Nathan Cleary in the backline. Api Koroisau hooks in at No.9 ahead of Damien Cook, a decision I made based on form and Panthers linkage. Naming Queensland's 17 was a challenging task considering the availability of some key players is still under a cloud. I've kept Cameron Munster at five-eighth, but should he not be fit to play I would shift Kalyn Ponga across from fullback and hand AJ Brimson the No.1 jersey. Valentine Holmes and Xavier Coates start on the wing, although the former can also provide cover at fullback if needed. It was difficult to split Harry Grant and Reed Mahoney at No.9, but I decided to start the latter due to his solid form for Parramatta and current availability. Grant, on the other hand, is still battling a hamstring injury and has been lethal off the bench this season for Melbourne.

NSW: 1. James Tedesco 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Latrell Mitchell 4. Tom Trbojevic 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Daniel Saifiti 9. Api Koroisau 10. Junior Paulo 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Cameron Murray 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Clinton Gutherson 15. Liam Martin 16. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 17. Jake Trbojevic

Queensland: 1. Kayln Ponga 2. Xavier Coates 3. Dane Gagai 4. Kurt Capewell 5. Valentine Holmes 6. Cameron Munster 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Christian Welch 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Tino Fa'asuamaleaui 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. David Fifita 13. Jai Arrow 14. Harry Grant 15. Jamal Fogarty 16. Jayden Su'A 17. Jarrod Wallace

Darren: This task has become even tougher with the head contact crackdown ruling out several Origin stars and hopefuls. Several players are on the comeback from injury as well, adding another challenge for the actual selectors and speculators like myself. I think the biggest concern for the Blues is the engine room, with front row stocks at a low point. In the backs it's a matter of too many fullbacks and who should make their debut. I've put Tom Trbojevic on the wing, as I think he will be better off contributing to kick returns and swapping with Tedesco at different stages of the game. Matt Burton has been screaming out for a run and reminds me of a young Brad Fittler - old enough, if good enough. I'm not convinced Jarome Luai is ready to start at five-eighth and I would stick with Cody Walker, who can combine with South's teammate Damien Cook who has retained the No.9 jersey in my line-up. Despite the horror run the Raiders have had, I'm giving Jack Wighton a start in the centres as well, as he is proven at this level. The Maroons look a bit shaky with some injury concerns, but I doubt anyone will be calling them the worst team ever selected - not again.

NSW: 1. James Tedesco 2. Josh Addo-Carr 3. Jack Wighton 4. Matt Burton 5. Tom Trbojevic. 6. Cody Walker 7. Nathan Cleary, 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 9. Damien Cook, 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Cameron Murray 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Jarome Luai 15. Dale Finucane 16. Ryan James 17 Junior Paulo

Queensland: 1. Kayln Ponga 2. Xavier Coates 3. Dane Gagai 4. Kurt Capewell 5. Valentine Holmes 6. Cameron Munster 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Christian Welch 9. Harry Grant 10. Jarrod Wallace 11. Tino Fa'asuamaleaui 12. David Fifita 13. Jai Arrow 14. Ben Hunt 15. Thomas Flegler 16. Jayden Su'A 17. Felise Kaufusi

Tom Trbojevic: How can one man make such a difference to a team's fortunes?

Lucie: Rarely has a player had such an influence on an NRL team's fortunes than Tom Trbojevic at Manly. The Sea Eagles have gone from enduring their worst opening month to sixth position on the ladder, all since the No.1 returned from injury in April. As much as I'd like to think he's made of kryptonite, Trbojevic's consistency is what stands out. In six matches, Trbojevic has scored eight tries, had 12 try assists, made 31 tackle breaks and 11 line breaks. His match awareness and ball-playing ability has lifted Manly's attack, in turn taking the pressure off skipper Daly Cherry-Evans who was under fire earlier this season. His on-field efforts have turned the Sea Eagles' campaign around, with Des Hasler's side winning five of their last six matches with Trbojevic at fullback (with their only loss coming to the unbeaten Panthers). What Trbojevic does is instill confidence, and no doubt a confident Manly is a dangerous one.

Darren: Turbo Tommy is not just any fullback or man for that matter. His efforts last week against the Eels told the complete story of why the Sea Eagles have turned their season around since his return from injury. Trbojevic is not only lightening quick and lethal when chiming into the backline on either side of the ruck, he is dangerous on kick returns, safe under the high ball and his goal line defence is brick-wall like. He hit one of the Eels forwards on his own goal line last week, turning the try-bound heavier man over as he did. More noticeable last week than ever before was his willingness to help out his forwards. Most fullbacks will do that by jumping into dummy half early in the tackle count to do some hard yards from there. Trbojevic was lining up one off the ruck, for the kind of charge straight into the teeth of the forwards, that is usually reserved for a team's props. He lifts everyone around him in the Sea Eagles team by his example alone. I don't see them challenging the Panthers or Storm, but if they remain injury free they could go deep into the finals after a start to the season that had them looking more like wooden spoon contenders.

Where do the Raiders go from here?

Lucie: It's a loaded question but surely the only way is up for Canberra. It's bewildering what's unfolded at the Raiders this season between off-field dramas and a 4-7 record. Ricky Stuart's side was a title contender leading into kick off, given their roster depth and form carried through from 2019. The fallout from George Williams' abrupt exit is the latest distraction for Canberra to navigate as they try to find their true form. The Englishman's immediate release leaves a gaping hole in Stuart's team, with the No.7 market looking too thin to find a like-for-like replacement for this season. Veteran Sam Williams will start at halfback in his absence but is unlikely to be a long term solution. The likes of Corey Norman, Shaun Johnson and Anthony Milford are coming off contract at the end of the season and could be well worth the Raiders' consideration to link up with Jack Wighton in 2022. But for now? The immediate concern is saving this campaign. The Raiders have a talented roster, so it's likely the team's mentality that needs addressing to prevent a further downfall.

Darren: I think the Raiders desperately need a giant dose of honesty right now. They owe their fans and players the truth on what exactly has been going on behind closed doors in frosty Canberra. Whatever it is, it has seen a premiership contender fall apart to the extent where the finals look more like a dream than a reality. Coach Ricky Stuart has to take control of the situation, telling the board to stay out of it, as he desperately tries to turn this season around. Letting George Williams go looks to be a good decision at this point, but even that simple move has become embroiled in a sea of "he said, they said" ugliness. The fans just want to know that the 17 players pulling on the lime green jersey each week want to be there and will be hell bent on giving their all for the proud club.