During the 2021 State of Origin Series, Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell were one of the most dominant centre pairings that the competition had ever seen. The pair combined for eight tries over the three games, helping to propel New South Wales to a 2-1 series win.
Almost 12 months later and with game one just around the corner neither of the two will be lining up in Sydney. With both stars out injured at least for the first match, it leaves Blues coach Brad Fittler with an important decision to make.
Which two players should fill in on June 8th in Sydney and line up in the centres?
It has felt like the 21-year-old has been on the cusp of Origin selection for years, however, the time may just be right for the young Panther.
Coming off a Premiership last season Crichton has been one of Penrith’s most consistent performers in 2022, scoring eight tries already in the NRL. He averages 140 run metres to go along with his 27 tackle breaks, looking like a threat whenever he touches the ball.
His partnership with NSW incumbent Brian To’o is just another reason that he may get his debut come game one, with the duo working brilliantly together over the past few years at clubland.
His ability to kick goals is also a handy skill to have up his sleeve, as well as his versatility to play multiple positions across the backline.
All signs seem to be pointing to an Origin debut for the 21-year-old, and no doubt he would not disappoint if given the chance.
After a slow start to the season, Kotoni Staggs has well and truly shown over the past two months why he is one of the most exciting centres in the NRL.
Strong and explosive, the Bronco can create something out of nothing almost whenever he pleases. His 57 tackle breaks so far in 2022 show his ability to brush off defences, with his renowned palm being something that all opponents need to watch out for.
Similar to Crichton his goal kicking is another bonus for NSW, as well as his ability to play at five-eighth if desperate.
Expect Fittler to be calling Staggs into the squad at least, with there being a big chance that he will be peeling on the Blue jersey in Sydney.
There is every chance that Wighton will be playing in the 14-jersey come game one of Origin, however another option for Fittler is to play the experienced Raider at centre.
Whilst his best position is in the halves or at fullback, Wighton has played numerous Origins at centre and has never disappointed. With a big body and an incredible running game, you know that he will be able to do a job wherever he is picked.
His experience may well work in his favour, with Fittler every chance of not wanting to blood two rookies for game one of the series. If that is the case Wighton is the perfect next option, someone who will fill in without the need for too much shifting in the squad.
Whilst he is more likely to be playing at 14 come game one, Wighton would certainly be in the thought process for NSW and will certainly let no one down if given the role.
Starting the season Siosifa Talakai would not have even been in this conversation, coming off the bench in the first two matches of the season before playing in the second row against the Dragons.
His move to centre in Round 4 proved to be a masterstroke, with the Shark recording an incredible 17 tackle breaks against the Knights in that match. Since then he has been on a rampage, including his game against Manly and Morgan Harper where fans were treated to arguably the greatest individual half of football of all time.
Having only played eight games in the position and the fact that there are two spots needing to be filled may work against him, as it is unlikely that Fittler would want to blood him with another rookie.
In saying this he would certainly do a job, and if he continues to play like he has been to start the season expect him to be in the conversation in 2023 as well.
Despite being only 22 years old, it feels like Zac Lomax has been in the NRL for a lifetime. The Dragon truly broke onto the scene in 2020, scoring 13 tries whilst setting up seven. He was rewarded with a call up into the NSW squad for his efforts that season, many thought he should have been picked for at least one game.
Since then we haven’t quite seen the best out of Lomax, with the centre showing glimpses of his brilliance without being able to sustain it. His incident with Tyson Frizell earlier this season will likely be the thing that sticks in people’s minds most about his campaign so far, which certainly doesn’t help his case.
Another season like 2020 and the centre will certainly be back in contention, however unfortunately for him, it appears that a few other young guns have passed him in the queue.
Last year’s Dally M Centre of the year, if Burton was still in Penrith playing that position he likely would have been an immediate selection for Fittler when Mitchell was announced to be out.
Instead, he has been playing five-eighth for the Bulldogs, showing glimpses whilst struggling to be at his best with a poor team.
The fact that he has not played centre since the 2021 Grand Final may work against the young gun. However, it must not be forgotten just how good he was at Penrith last year.
17 tries, 13 try assists and an average of over 100 run metres prove the calibre of centre he is, however, his recent switch to six may just have left him falling behind some of his counterparts in the pecking order.
The Rabbitohs may be going through a tough start to the 2022 season, however, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who places the blame on Campbell Graham’s shoulders. Since his breakout season in 2018, the centre has been a consistent cog in a very good Souths side, looking dangerous in attack and rock solid in defence.
His call up to the NSW squad last year where he was Tom Trbojevic’s understudy will do his quest for a starting jersey no harm, with Fittler already having a good look at him in an Origin environment.
Whilst he may not be as flashy as some of the other names on this list, he would certainly do a job if required, with his height (197cm) likely to be a positive against Queensland’s dangerous wingers.
South Sydney’s recent form may have left many forgetting about his quality, however, don’t be surprised if Fittler backs him for the first game of the series.
A few years away
After playing a few games in 2021, Izack Tago was trusted by coach Ivan Cleary to take over from the departing Matt Burton. The young gun has certainly delivered.
Eight tries, five try assists and an average of over 140 run metres encapsulates his rapid rise to be one of the best centres in the NRL, with the 20-year-old looking confident against even the league’s best.
His age and inexperience may however work against him this year with Origin selection, with Fittler likely to take a more cautious approach to the future superstar.
Instead expect it to be another few years before Tago gets his chance for the Blues, however, once he gets it, expect him to not let the opportunity slip.
The 18-year-old has been the man on everyone’s lips over the past few seasons, with him being touted to be the next big thing in rugby league. If the last month has been anything to go by those predictions were correct.
Currently playing on the wing, the Rooster looks to be already comfortable in both attack and defence at NRL level, with two doubles in a row and his highlight real hit on Viliame Kikau highlighting the ability he has on both ends.
With another year expect him to potentially replace Paul Momirovski in the centres, with his frame and ability pointing to that switch before likely replacing NSW captain James Tedesco at fullback once he hangs up the boots.
Similar to Tago this year is too early for Suaalii, however, in a few years expect him to be right in that NSW conversation.
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