We've come to that time of the year again, where the AFL's rival code the NRL bring out their 'State of Origin' - Sparking that question that we hear year after year: 'When is the AFL bringing State of Origin footy back?' Some would love to see their state's best players represent in a bit of a nostalgic trip, others believe it is very much outdated.
18 years it has been since the AFL last held an official State of Origin match, and it's been nearly a decade since we've witnessed anything that resembled a State of Origin match. But with Game Two of the NRL State Of Origin set to commence tonight, I thought it would be time to revisit an article I did last year that was met with a lot of reviews from both sides of the fence.
Today on Bulldogs Centre, I've named the four teams that I witnessed growing up: Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and a team compiling of the rest of the nation - The Allies. I've tried my best to name all the players in their respective sides based on form this season, but as there always is with naming teams, there will always be names that are very unlucky.
Before we get started, I just want to run a couple of points with everyone:
Like last year, it will be compulsory for all teams to have two ruckmen in their respective sides
Also like last year, the interchange bench will be extended from four men to six, to increase opportunity for spots in each team
Players will be sorted out from where they have played their junior footy, NOT where they were originally born
Now we've got that all out of the way, let's name the four teams if we brought back the AFL State of Origin in 2017.
B: Dane Rampe (SYD), Steven May (GCS), Jeremy Howe (COLL)
HB: Zac Williams (GWS), Harris Andrews (BL), Grant Birchall (HAW)
C: Isaac Smith (HAW), Isaac Heeney (SYD), Nick Riewoldt (STK)
HF: Cyril Rioli (HAW), Taylor Walker (ADEL), Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti (ESS)
F: Jack Riewoldt (RICH), Ben Brown (NM), Luke Breust (HAW)
FOL: Toby Nankervis (RICH), Dayne Beams (BL), Dayne Zorko (BL)
INT: Jarrod Witts (GCS), Aaron Hall (GCS), Josh Green (ESS), Jarrod Harbrow (GCS), Callum Mills (SYD), David Armitage (STK)
Can The Best Of The Rest Of The Nation Do Some Damage?
Underestimate The Allies at your own peril. This side has a plethora of talent that ranges from sharp-shooting forwards, underrated defenders and straight-out elite midfielders. In amongst this are club best and fairest winners, Coleman medal winners, Rising Star winners and premiership players. Having said all of this, I do believe this team could make some noise if we had the State of Origin today.
Let's start with the forwards, which can produce a good influx of goals on any given day. With the talls, the Allies have reliable goal-kickers in Ben Brown and Taylor Walker in the two key forward slots, whilst another reliable goal-kicker in Jack Riewoldt will play third-tall in the pocket in a role in which I believe he can thrive in. The small forwards for the Allies boast some of the most exciting small forwards we've seen in recent years. Cyril Rioli is a well-established star and a four-time premiership Hawk and pairing him with second-year sensation Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti will be something that will have footy fans salivating, and with Hawthorn's Luke Breust and Essendon's Josh Green complementing what is an already exciting forward line, it's hard to argue against it being a exciting forward line capable of a match-winning score.
On the other end of the ground, Most of the defence of the Allies boasts players that get the job done with little to no recognition. People might percieve Gold Coast enforcer Steven May as a bit of a thug, given his history, but the work he does in shutting down his opposing forwards often go unnoticed, as does the work of Sydney defender Dane Rampe, who despite earning an All-Australian last season, still had people asking the question 'Who?' during the off-season. Not only can Rampe play the lock-down role superbly, but can also help young Giant Zac Williams and ageing Hawk Grant Birchall run the ball out of defence and can also use the quick Jarrod Harbrow and the second-year Swan Callum Mills to fill in off the bench when required. Jeremy Howe's form since joining Collingwood has been a revelation as he has enjoyed career-best form in the back-line since crossing from Melbourne. Young Lion Harris Andrews faces the daunting prospect of being the centre-half back for The Allies at just 20 years of age, but since debuting for Brisbane a couple of years ago, he has proven he's more than up to the task.
In the midfield, their is an engine room that is capable of being a match-winning midfield on its day. Ruckmen Toby Nankervis and Jarrod Witts have enjoyed breakout years at their new clubs in 2017 were rewarded with spots in The Allies lineup, with Nankervis starting and Witts coming off the bench. Brisbane pair Dayne Beams and Dayne Zorko (below) are elite midfielders who can give you 25 disposals and a goal a game with minimum issues, partner them with Isaac Heeney in the middle and that's a formidable trio. But it doesn't stop there, coming off the bench are a pair of ball-winners in David Armitage and Aaron Hall, young Mills can also play as a midfield option and a pair on the wings that will run all day - one is a premiership star in Isaac Smith, the other is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer in Nick Riewoldt, who can also push forward to play as a key forward.
B: Brad Sheppard (WCE), Alex Rance (RICH), Nathan Wilson (GWS)
HB: Elliot Yeo (WCE), Jeremy McGovern (WCE), Jason Johannisen (WB)
C: Bradley Hill (FREM), Tom Mitchell (HAW), Stephen Hill (FREM)
HF: Michael Walters (FREM), Lance Franklin (SYD), Charlie Cameron (ADEL)
F: Jesse Hogan (MELB), Josh Kennedy (WCE), Jeff Garlett (MELB)
FOL: Aaron Sandilands (FREM), Nathan Fyfe (FREM), Patrick Cripps (CARL)
INT: Paddy Ryder (PORT), Mark LeCras (WCE), Harry Taylor (GEEL), Mitch Duncan (GEEL), Matt Priddis (WCE), Connor Blakely (FREM)
Will There Be Any Team Who Can Stop Western Australia?
If this list remained healthy, then I believe this side could dominate State of Origin. On every line there is just pure, star talent. Forwards have goal-kickers that have given 80-100 goals in a season in the past, A midfield duo that have won Brownlow Medals surrounded by very good midfielders and elite defenders that have won All-Australians or are well on the way to earning a selection. This is a side that will make any opposition quiver in fear.
Where do we even begin? The forwards are an incredible blend of key forwards with brute strength and elite athleticism, and with Josh Kennedy and Lance Franklin, you have a pair that have won several Coleman Medals and those two alone could give an entire defensive unit headaches. And then you have Melbourne's Jesse Hogan as the third tall, who is unstoppable when it is his day. The small forwards are just as dangerous when they are crumbing at the feet of guys like Franklin and Kennedy. Jeff Garlett is enjoying a stellar year at Melbourne and deservedly gets a spot in the pocket, Michael Walters has been a known goal-kicker at times, but is making more of a name now as a midfielder, so a spot at half-forward sounded appropriate, whilst on the other flank it's Charlie Cameron who is another fleet-footed dangerous small forward who can push up the ground. Coming off the bench is none other than Mark LeCras who not only can be a crumbing forward, but he can also be a lead-up type too, which is handy.
If you thought that forward line was impressive, read who'll be delivering the ball to them. Fyfe, Cripps, Priddis, Tom Mitchell, the Hill Brothers. Very elite isn't it? There is a mix of both contested ball winners and guys who can run the ball and deliver by foot.We know Fyfe is arguably one of a couple of the game's biggest stars today, and when you compliment him with fellow elite inside midfielders such as Patrick Cripps, Matt Priddis and Tom Mitchell - Who leads the league in disposals in 2017 - then it's an incredibly scary engine room in WA. Brad and Stephen Hill are unquestionably elite runners, as is Geelong's Mitch Duncan, who will come off the bench and provide a chop-out, and if they need an extra runner, then Western Bulldogs' Jason Johannisen will be a very handy player to have on the wing, thus completing an incredibly lethal midfield. In the ruck, It's Fremantle veteran Aaron Sandilands who gets the start after continuing to amaze everybody with his play despite retirement creeping up on him, whilst I have Port's Paddy Ryder on the bench over Nic Naitanui, who has yet to be seen in 2017, as he recovers from his ACL he sustained late in the year.
Then come the backs, who I think are just as good as the forwards. You have two of the game's best key defenders in Alex Rance and Jeremy McGovern. Rance is an elite stopper who can get his hands on the ball, take numerous marks in defence and has been a match-winner for Richmond over the past few years, whilst McGovern is well-known for his intercept marking across half-back and has quickly risen from a nobody to a star. Brad Sheppard is another excellent defensive stopper, who has been known to play on guys well above his size, but they do have Harry Taylor as a swingman option coming off the bench in case WA need the support. Nathan Wilson and Johannisen provide a lot of run and drive out of defence, as does Elliot Yeo (below), who is having a career-best year at West Coast, but can do almost everything: He can run, he can intercept mark, he can shut down opposing forwards and he has simply shown in 2017 that his best footy is in the back-line.
B: Shannon Hurn (WCE), Phil Davis (GWS), Tom Jonas (PORT)
HB: Rory Laird (ADEL), Heath Grundy (SYD), Brodie Smith (ADEL)
C: Jared Polec (PORT), Bryce Gibbs (CARL), Shaun Burgoyne (HAW)
HF: Chad Wingard (PORT), Justin Westhoff (PORT), Paul Puopolo (HAW)
F: Orazio Fantasia (ESS), Rhys Stanley (GEEL), Daniel Menzel (GEEL)
FOL: Brodie Grundy (COLL), Brad Ebert (PORT), Lachie Neale (FREM)
INT: Sam Jacobs (ADEL), Shane Edwards (RICH), Levi Greenwood (COLL), Bernie Vince (MELB), Caleb Daniel (WB), Ryan Burton (HAW)
Is South Australia Underrated Or Just Weak In Comparison?
I look at South Australia's list here, and whilst I think there's a fair amount of talent on the team, I don't think it could match it with the powers that are Western Australia or Victoria. There's elite kicks coming out of defence and there are forwards that provide excitement and electricity, but the midfield and a lack of a key forward is where my concerns lie
With Brodie Grundy and Sam Jacobs rotating in the ruck, that provides South Australia with elite tap ruckmen. However, this team lacks genuine stars that Victoria and Western Australia have, but their is a lot of depth in this team, and that's what they'll rely on the most. Lachie Neale is an elite disposal winner, as he proved it last year, but many have questioned whether or not these disposals hurt the opposition, but he's working his hardest to make them count, nearly averaging a goal per game in 2017 along with a modest average of 28 disposals per game. Undoubtedly, South Australia's number one midfielder, Bryce Gibbs and Brad Ebert have proven to be valued contributors as well and will also start in the middle whilst the skills from both Jared Polec and Shaun Burgoyne on the wings, will prove to be vital to SA's success, whilst expect solid contributions from the likes of Shane Edwards, Levi Greenwood, Caleb Daniel and Bernie Vince coming off the bench.
The South Australian forward line is blessed with elite small forwards that will compensate for the lack of a genuine key forward. Some will disagree with this, but I've named Geelong ruckman Rhys Stanley as South Australia's full-forward because really, he's probably the closest thing I had to a big full-forward that other sides have. He's tall, can take a contested mark and has kicked bags of goals in the past, naming the lanky Justin Westhoff at centre-half forward is about the closest thing to a centre-half forward I had. But it's about the smalls this side has. Orazio Fantasia and Daniel Menzel in the pockets, have both snagged over 25 goals in 2017 and are match-winners when they play their best footy, as is Chad Wingard, who I've named at half-forward as he can either kick bags of goals, or rack up serious possession numbers. Premiership Hawk Paul Puopolo was named on the other flank and like the others, can put up goals and a number of pressure acts that aren't to be underestimated.
Their back six is a solid blend of lockdown defenders and elite ball-users. Phil Davis and Heath Grundy will once again play as the key defenders for South Australia, with Port's Tom Jonas playing as the third-man up in the pocket - one of many key factors in why Port have shot back up the ladder in 2017. West Coast captain Shannon Hurn will marshal the defence from the back pocket and with the ability to launch absolute ripping kicks with his left foot, should compliment Adelaide pair Rory Laird and Brodie Smith off half-back. Smith is an All-Australian in 2014, and Laird (below) is amongst one of the game's elite running defenders, with his ability to rack up disposals at will a real highlight in his game. Coming off the bench, look out for second-year Hawk Ryan Burton as the wildcard in all of this, a favourite to take home the Rising Star award at the moment, he has the potential to make things special on a big stage.
B: Heath Shaw (GWS), Robbie Tarrant (NM), Dylan Roberton (STK)
HB: Sam Docherty (CARL), Michael Hurley (ESS), Kade Simpson (CARL)
C: Scott Pendlebury (COLL), Joel Selwood (GEEL), Josh Kelly (GWS)
HF: Toby Greene (GWS), Tom Lynch (GCS), Robbie Gray (PORT)
F: Eddie Betts (ADEL), Joe Daniher (ESS), Jeremy Cameron (GWS)
FOL: Shane Mumford (GWS), Patrick Dangerfield (GEEL), Gary Ablett (GCS)
INT: Stefan Martin (BL), Zach Merrett (ESS), Rory Sloane (ADEL), Andrew Gaff (WCE), Dustin Martin (RICH), Marcus Bontempelli (WB)
Can Victoria's 'Super Powers' Reign Supreme?
Unquestionably, Victoria would be the ones that could challenge Western Australia to the title of the best State of Origin team. A brigade of elite midfielders, both inside and outside complimented with a dangerous forward containing several players that have kicked over 60 goals in a season and others who have kicked over 40 goals in recent seasons with a defence that are elite at marking the ball and firing it back out with elite skills. What I would give to see a match between Victoria and Western Australia, even if it was for the last time.
Let's start with the midfield, it was incredibly hard to choose because there were about 30-40 players you could choose from, and there were several players that are incredibly unlucky, but I've opted to try and go for a blend of young stars of the competition with some of the game's finest veterans. In the ruck, I've opted to go with GWS' Shane Mumford and Brisbane's Stefan Martin and rewarded the pair for their form in 2017. Starting in the middle is the incredibly tough, yet so lethal 'Dangerwood' duo that is Joel Selwood and Patrick Dangerfield and alongside a Gary Ablett who looks rejuvenated this season after a couple of injury-plagued years. The wings show a changing of the guard of sorts, with Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury on one wing and young GWS ace Josh Kelly on the other, and if that's not enough, then the bench should have more than plenty for any side. Zach Merrett, Rory Sloane, Andrew Gaff on the wing, Dustin Martin and Marcus Bontempelli are all stars that can fill in at one point or another, but Dusty and 'The Bont' will most likely see more time down forward than in the midfield.
The forwards are formidable, with the three key forward slots filled in with stars that will take the Vics into the future for a considerable number of years. Tom Lynch had an outstanding year in 2016, which saw him kick 66 goals for a struggling Gold Coast and was rewarded with a spot in the All-Australian team. Jeremy Cameron has been a consistent goal-kicker for GWS over the last few years and is well on the way to kicking over 50 goals in the season for the fourth time in six years, whilst Joe Daniher's (below) inclusion will be the most controversial of the three. Daniher's accuracy over the past four seasons has been inconsistent to say the least, but after a shaky start this year, he has displayed quality goal-kicking for Essendon, slotting 34 goals after only 12 games - well on track to break the 43-goal season he had last year. Eddie Betts is the premier small forward in the league right now and it's no surprise to see him feature in the pocket, whilst on the half-forward flanks, we have Robbie Gray and Toby Greene - both All-Australians, both well on the way of kicking 40 goals for the year in 2017 and both capable of playing midfield, which adds another dynamic to the Victorian's almighty midfield.
In defence, I've settled on a back six which I believe has a perfect blend of lockdown and run out of defensive 50. North Melbourne's Robbie Tarrant and Essendon's Michael Hurley are arguably the best key defenders Victoria has to offer - both can intercept marks and rebound the ball outside of the defensive 50. Hurley's already an All-Australian, but I suspect Tarrant will get one too before his time is done. It's not a Victorian team unless Heath Shaw is running around in the back-line. Since arriving at GWS, he has been a staple on the Giants' defensive unit and has established himself as an elite running defender, whilst Carlton's Kade Simpson is amongst some of the game's underrated players. He can win the ball and provide run and carry, whilst maintaining a true defensive role that can be admired from afar. His fellow team mate Sam Docherty gets a spot on the opposite half-back flank as he has enjoyed some fantastic footy in the past 18 months, whilst St. Kilda's Dylan Roberton is rewarded for his stellar 2017 year with a spot as the Vics' third-tall defender.
Pictures Courtesy Of Getty Images