If not Mitchell Pearce, then who? That is the question NSW powerbrokers will be asking themselves for the next 10 months after falling short again.
Before the series, Blues coach Laurie Daley stated that Adam Reynolds wasn’t yet ready to make the step up to the interstate arena. But with another year of first grade under his belt, the South Sydney halfback is shaping as the most likely replacement.
However, there are other options. In preseason, Albert Kelly was without a club and, when he found one at the Gold Coast, he was stuck behind Scott Prince.
However, the former Parramatta, Cronulla and Newcastle playmaker has made the No.7 spot his own, and has turned out to be one of the bargain buys of the season. While he is still in the early stages of an NRL career that has had several false starts, the 22-year-old will come into the reckoning if he can maintain consistent form.
Otherwise it’s back to the future, with Newcastle stalwarts Kurt Gidley or Jarrod Mullen having yet another crack at the Blues No.7 jersey. Or there’s the option of shifting Todd Carney to halfback, although the fact that he hasn’t played his best football in his preferred pivot position on the biggest stage could count against him.
New Dragons recruit Sam Williams played for Country Origin this year but, given he wasn’t a regular starter at the Raiders, would be considered an outside chance.
If Reynolds gets the nod, there is likely to be a push for his Souths partner, John Sutton, to make the step up with him. Alternatively, they could go for the Titans pairing of Kelly and Aidan Sezer.
Should Kelly get the nod, it would be an opportunity to go up against his cousin, Maroons star Greg Inglis. While they both hail from Macksville, Kelly’s ambition is to represent the southerners.
”I love watching Greggo play and get into space, it gets me excited, but I’m Blue all the way through,” Kelly said.
”If I get a chance to play for the Blues it would be a great honour, but I’ve got to concentrate on club football first.
”When I played against the Rabbitohs this year, it was a dream come true to go one-on-one with G.I. in the top grade.
”To do [the same thing] in Origin … I can’t explain. It would be a big bonus.
”Our family would be stoked and I can guarantee there will be at least 40 people coming from Kempsey, Bowraville, Macksville, all along the coast there.”
Kelly has already marked up on Inglis this year at club level, with the latter stopping him from what would have been a match-winning try for the Titans. ”There will be another [encounter],” said Kelly, who marks up against Maroons and Manly playmaker Daly Cherry-Evans on Sunday.
”He’s got the upper [hand] on me at the moment. He’s the best in the world, and sometimes you get beaten by good football.” While Daley indicated early in this year’s campaign that Pearce would be his halfback, former NSW No. 7 Greg Alexander said it would be prudent to keep the options open for next year.
”I wouldn’t [want] any bold statements early in the season, I’d see how things pan out in the opening couple of months,” Alexander said. ”They will have their eye on Reynolds and Kelly but I’d want to see how players start the year, make sure they are good in form before we rubber-stamp them.”
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.