“Pick them all,” was Phil Gould’s cry as the Dragons did a job on Cronulla last week.
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Gus is of course partial to hyperbole while in the midst of a call but, the way the Dragons are currently playing, it was only a slight exaggeration.
In fact, the Dragons appear to be winning with such methodical ease at present, questions about rep football are all that coach Paul McGregor is fielding.
He’s made no secret of the chats he’s had with NSW coach Brad Fittler and the message is clear: Freddie’s wiping the slate clean and will be picking players on form.
Having started 6-0, the Dragons rightly have a host of players in contention. Tyson Frizell is – deservedly – a walk-up start, Jack de Belin's selection appears equally fait accompli, Cam McInnes is the form NSW number nine and Paul Vaughan is knocking on the door.
All make strong claims but, by far, the most interesting selection proposition is Gerirngong product Tariq Sims
If you’d walked into a pub five years ago and said he’d still be chasing an Origin debut at the age of 28, they’d have cut you off at the bar.
At North Queensland he was cutting swathes through rivals, with and without the footy, and a Blues jumper seemed a matter of when, not if.
As Sims would be the first to tell you, things can change quickly in rugby league.
This is a guy who twice come back from career-threatening broken legs before the age of 25.
A bumpy ride at Newcastle and a team-first shift to middle at the Dragons has seen him slip from the top of the pecking order.
The richness of NSW’s back-row stocks means one never stays top of that pile for long.
This season, however, there is no edge back-rower playing better football.
He’s playing very much like a man on a mission and that aggressive mentality is driving a Dragons pack playing out of it’s skin.
It’s a mentality custom-made for Origin. If form is the chief consideration, he should be there come Origin I. One can only hope he’s given a fair shake at the selection table.
Fittler’s predecessor Laurie Daley was loyal to fault – evidently to the wrong players. Sticking with guys who’d allegedly “done the job before” was a common an infuriating refrain.
Persisting too long with an ageing squad brought a reactionary push for generational change and has recently seen selectors look almost exclusively to youth with a view to future series.
That's come to manifest itself in an ageist selection policy and one that rarely looks solely at the series at hand.
Sims is only 28, but when was to the last time NSW debuted a 28-year-old back-rower?
It’s where talk of a rep selection ‘window’ comes from.
The term suggests that a player has only a limited time to force their way into Origin before that window closes on them.
Kickoff had an interesting conversation with Sims in the preseason about whether he thought his may of closed.
“No I don’t, I honestly don’t,” he said.
“It’s still a huge burning desire for me. With the change of coach hopefully there’s a shake-up in the playing roster and Freddie might bring in some different players of age and experience.
“You look at a guy like Corey Parker, he got better with age.
Obviously he was exceptionally durable but I believe, if you’re playing good enough football, you deserve to be there.”
Parker played three games for Queensland in series losses in 2004 and 2005.
He had to wait six years for a recall which came in 2011 at age 29.
He finished his career with 19 Origins to his name and was the Wally Lewis Medalist in the Maroons 2015 series win at the age of 33.
Lucky for the Maroons, they didn’t close the window on him.
Sims looked made for Origin when he burst on the scene six years ago.
He’s still made for it now.
Let’s just hope the selectors leave that window open.
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