Stuart takes Blues Origin gamble
MANLY back-rower Tony Williams will not have played a game in nine weeks when he runs out for NSW in Origin 1 next Wednesday.
The selection of Williams was just one of a number of contentious decisions by Blues coach Ricky Stuart as he searched for the formula to end Queensland's record run of six consecutive series wins.
Stuart, also the sole NSW selector, named Manly utility Jamie Buhrer for his origin debut, enigmatic Parramatta back Jarryd Hayne, under-fire Penrith centre Michael Jennings and much maligned Wests Tigers hooker Robbie Farah.
Players who could consider themselves unlucky to miss out included young Cowboys tyro Tariq Sims and Manly back-rower Anthony Watmough who declared himself available after an injury scare against the Broncos on Friday night.
After playing in the NSW Cup on Saturday, Jennings became the first person chosen for Origin from reserve grade since the late Arthur Beetson. Stuart said he hoped Origin selection would spark both Jennings and Hayne to find their best form.
"It's up to Jarryd and Michael to get back to the form needed to play at this level," Stuart said.
"Hopefully this will also kick-start Michael's chance to get back into the Penrith first grade squad."
The coach, who appears to have put his own future and reputation on the line with the selections, also said while former Origin great Steve Roach had been at the head of a long queue of critics saying Farah was "not an Origin player", Stuart himself was confident the Wests Tigers No 9 was up to the task. "Robbie is a very skilful and talented player. He doesn't need to change his game," Stuart said.
He admitted he liked what incumbent hooker Michael Ennis brought to the table, but said ongoing concerns around Ennis' knee made his selection too risky. While Farah has the coach's vote at this stage, the selection of 22-year-old Buehrer as the bench utility in place of the injured Kurt Gidley appears to be an insurance policy.
"I really like what I see in Jamie," Stuart said.
"I've got a second hooker there in case I need one, he's played in a grand final."
The Queensland team will be named at function in Brisbane this evening. Origin 1 will be played at Melbourne's Etihad Stadium on Wednesday, May 23.
NSW ORIGIN SQUAD: Greg Bird, Jamie Buhrer, Todd Carney, Ben Creagh, Robbie Farah, Paul Gallen (capt), Jarryd Hayne, Michael Jennings, Luke Lewis, Trent Merrin, Josh Morris, Mitchell Pearce, Brett Stewart, Glenn Stewart, James Tamou, Tony Williams, Akuila Uate.