Blues halves battle a race in three
THE Eels run of poor form has finally caught up with Mitchell Moses as Blues selectors run out of patience with the misfiring Parramatta No.7.
There had been a late push for Moses to snatch an unlikely Blues debut but that looks to have been shelved after another less than impressive showing against the Warriors on Friday night.
The Eels sit on the bottom of the premiership ladder with just two wins this season, cruelling Moses' hopes of earning a Blues call-up.
The Blues halves race battle is now down to three after Nathan Cleary's successful return on Thursday night.
Cleary joins Panthers halves partner James Maloney and the Roosters Luke Keary in the race for a starting spot when the team is announced next Monday.
The halves combination of Cleary and Maloney is enticing but Keary has his own combination with Roosters and Blues skipper Boyd Cordner on the left edge along with Blues hopeful Latrell Mitchell, which is appealing.
Cleary and Maloney are preparing for a showdown against in-form St George Illawarra duo Ben Hunt and Gareth Widdop on Saturday night.
The Blues hierarchy started the season with a list of more than 50 players. Selectors now have a shortlist of 26 players on their radar heading into the final round of games before the team is picked.
Tom Trbojevic and James Tedesco remain locked in a battle for the fullback role while the Mitchell and James Roberts clash on Friday night highlighted the attacking brilliances and defensive flaws of both players.
Trbojevic is also in contention for a centre spot but is unlikely to feature on the wing with Josh Addo-Carr, Blake Ferguson and Nick Cotric battling for two spots.
Regardless of the final make-up of the Blues 17, it will almost see NSW pick its most amount of debutants in 19 years since nine players made their debut for the Blues in 1999.
This current crop of Blues could have as many as 10 debutants for the opening game with the likes of Roberts, Mitchell, Cleary, Keary, Trbojevic, Addo-Carr, Cotric, Jack de Belin, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, and Damien Cook/Cameron McInnes closing in on debuts.
Brad Fittler captained the 1999 side to a 9-8 loss at Suncorp Stadium which featured first-gamers including Robbie Ross, Darren Albert, Matt Geyer, Jason Stevens, Craig Gower, Bryan Fletcher, Ryan Girdler, Luke Ricketson and Anthony Mundine.
Stevens, who played in the opening match of the drawn series, said the Blues would be aided by not playing in Queensland until game three.
"My most vivid memory was being in a huddle and Freddy was talking to us before the game," Stevens said of Fittler.
"He was shouting orders and I couldn't hear him. I was literally standing half a metre from him but the booing was so loud. It was awesome.
"Playing the game in Melbourne will work in our favour. No matter what you say, it's a huge thing going up to Queensland to play.
"I just love the way Freddy has taken charge. He is sending all the right signals about cultures."
THE SELECTION SHORTLIST
Fullback: James Tedesco, Tom Trbojevic
Wing: Josh Addo-Carr, Nick Cotric, Blake Ferguson
Centre: Latrell Mitchell, Euan Aitken, James Roberts, Tom Trbojevic
Halves: Nathan Cleary, James Maloney, Luke Keary
Lock: Jack de Belin, Jake Trbojevic, Dale Finucane, Trent Merrin
Second row: Tyson Frizell, Boyd Cordner, Tariq Sims, Wade Graham
Prop: David Klemmer, Paul Vaughan, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Aaron Woods
Hooker: Damien Cook, Cam McInnes
Utility: Tyrone Peachey