Each week, ESPN's NRL experts Darren Arthur and Christian D'Aloia take on the burning issues in the game. This week they look at Brad Fittler's plans to pick Tom Trbojevic for Origin, the Roosters' life deal for James Tedesco and whether the Broncos need to cut Anthony Milford.
Can Fittler select Tom Trbojevic for Origin?
Darren: New South Wales has seen a turnaround in their playing stocks in the last few years, with plenty of halves now putting their hands up for selection, though outside back numbers have dwindled. Even last year Brad Fittler had to shoe-horn a five-eighth and fullback in Jack Wighton and Tom Trbojevic into the centre positions. This year he waits anxiously as Trbojevic fights to return from a hamstring injury. Fittler says he is keen to name Trbojevic, which is understandable for two reasons. Firstly, the Sea Eagles fullback is a world class player and a winning ingredient in the Blues line-up; secondly, there isn't really anyone else putting their hand up for the centre position. You have Josh Morris, who has retired from Origin, James Roberts whose form has been mixed and Josh Dugan as the more experienced options. Waiting in the wings are Panthers young gun Stephen Crichton and Knights star Bradman Best. Cronulla's Bronson Xeri looked a very likely contender until his performance enhancing fall from grace. I'd be tempted to leave Trbojevic out, for the sake of his full recovery, and give Best a run in his place; but Best is only just on his way back from an ankle injury himself. Best does have at least one finals game to prove his fitness, though. It is definitely a headache call for Freddy.
Christian: Brad Fittler has already confirmed several times that he would feel comfortable selecting gun Manly fullback Tom Trbojevic for his NSW State of Origin side. Given his incredible talent, his outstanding performances at centre for the Blues and his ability to excel at fullback, I think Trbojevic remains an essential selection choice for Fittler despite his injury-prone hamstrings sidelining him since June. Even if he fails to suit up for the Sea Eagles in the final two games of the NRL season, leaving a healthy Trbojevic out of a NSW Origin side seems like a massive oversight. The season-ending injury to South Sydney fullback Latrell Mitchell has ruled out a likely rival for Trbojevic's centre spot, while the Raiders' Jack Wighton should hang on to his own centre jersey after starring at five-eighth this year. With few others putting their hand up to displace Trbojevic, his selection in the side is an astute, if not essential, decision.
Roosters or Tedesco: who wins the reported life deal?
Darren: James Tedesco is easily one of the best rugby league players of the past few years. His achievements at club and representative level during that time are unsurpassed. It is easy to argue that $1.2 million a season is a little light on for such an influential player, but in the context of playing in a successful team, under the current salary cap, it is probably his fair share. Tedesco will be happy knowing he has five years of job security up his sleeve and can fully focus on adding to his growing collection of premiership rings. The Roosters can focus on ensuring that he has the talent around him to continue their successful run, particularly with the Morris brothers due to retire in the next year or so. After the torturous year that 2020 has been, I think both parties come out of this deal with a smile on their faces.
Christian: Rumours have been circling lately of an impending lifetime deal for James Tedesco with the Sydney Roosters. The deal is said to be worth $1.2 million per year over the course of five years, netting the gun fullback $6 million and keeping him at the eastern suburbs club for essentially the remainder of his career. Having won back-to-back Origin series and NRL premierships in 2018 and 2019, and dominating in each arena, Tedesco is more than deserving of joining the likes of Daly Cherry-Evans and Jason Taumalolo in accepting a lucrative long-term deal. While there were originally significant qualms about the dangers Cherry-Evans and Taumalolo's deals presented to their respective clubs in the event of long-term injury and downturns in form, both players have provided fantastic value for money at this stage. Tedesco's deal is only five years long (compared to Cherry-Evans and Taumalolo's ten) and given the fact that he is no longer injury prone and has a great influence over any game he plays, I think the rumoured deal would be beneficial for both player and club.
Is it time for the Broncos to move on from Milford?
Darren: It is hard to say exactly how the Broncos will dig themselves out of their 2020 rut. In a year that they will likely want to forget as quickly as possible, they have already sacked their head coach, two years into a five-year contract. Since his departure the results on the field have been just as bad. Clearly this is way more than a group of players rebelling against an unpopular mentor; they need a good player clean-out but have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. These men are first grade NRL players for good reasons; a life-long dedication to the sport mixed with a good degree of natural ability and the mental competitiveness to succeed. Those elements are not lost overnight, but the switch has obviously been flicked off in some of them. The club needs a very astute coach to come in and identify the players who can be salvaged. Whether or not Anthony Milford is one of those players is a call for someone with greater knowledge of the inner workings of the man. Going purely off his on-field production you would have to say no, but he obviously has all the raw ingredients to turn things around.
Christian: The Brisbane Broncos' season from hell has already led to a major casualty in the coaching staff with a similar fallout almost certain to take place among the playing group. If that is the case, as it very well should be, I think Anthony Milford should be among the first players to be moved on given his million dollar price tag. Of course, there are plenty of other players that should also be pushed out, ranging from Darius Boyd to Brodie Croft and Jack Bird, but as a long-term player at the club and an influential playmaker on a huge contract, Milford is showing that he is unable to provide the class and stability that the Broncos need from a star half. With only one try and four try assists in the 13 games he has played this year, Milford's diabolical 2020 season has been the culmination of several seasons of ineffectual play. Of course, at just 26 years of age, he still has the potential to turn a corner and return to the form that had him billed as one of the game's hottest commodities. Perhaps the right coach could be the missing key, but typically, truly gifted players that have been down on form for extended periods of time benefit most from a change of scenery.