Written by Jack Blyth
The same battle, a bigger stage. That’s the dilemma for a host of New South Welshmen, who are set to reignite battles with former club mates for spots in the Blues side.
The sides for State of Origin Game I were named on Thursday afternoon, with Queensland naming a mammoth eight debutants in comparison to New South Wales’ three making their maiden appearance in the Origin arena.
Whilst the side for next Wednesday’s clash at Adelaide Oval is confirmed, it seems with the series to be played in three consecutive games, the squad will be rotated – leaving some old clubland battles to be reignited on the rep scene.
Luke Keary won the race for the vacant five-eighth role alongside Nathan Cleary in the halves, beating out the newly-named bench utility Cody Walker for a starting spot.
But it’s not the first time Luke Keary and Cody Walker have gone head to head for a starting spot.
In fact, it was a 2015 Elimination Final crusher tackle on Paul Gallen from Keary that would hand Walker his NRL debut at age 26.
“I remember I debuted because he [Keary] was suspended, and then Adam [Reynolds] broke his jaw. It was me and Keary for five or six weeks” Walker told the Sydney Morning Herald.
The pair would win only two of seven games partnering each other, with Keary even sensationally starting from the bench for a few games mid-season. To be fair, this was after the Nana Glen quad bike incident with Russell Crowe. The Roosters had announced his signing from 2017 onwards, and Walker began to fill the Keary-shaped void in South Sydney fan’s hearts.
Since their last match together four years ago, Keary has gone on to win two Grand Finals with the Chooks as well as a Clive Churchill medal in 2018, and his first two caps for the Kangaroos.
Walker has had a fair crack himself since that 2016 season, making his Origin debut in Game I last year and has led the Rabbitohs to three straight preliminary finals appearances, though that maiden Grand Final is proving elusive.
They’re not the only former team-mates battling it out for the same position, with two custodians under injury clouds and, more importantly, two Wests Tigers’ ex-teammates in James Tedesco and Ryan Papenhuyzen.
Teddy has been named in the number one jersey for the series opener despite a nagging knee injury, whilst ‘Paps’ has a calf complaint that will see his sky-blue debut put on hold for at least a week.
It’s a case of Deja Vu for Wests Tigers fans, watching players leave the club and star elsewhere. Papenhuyzen picked up the Clive Churchill Medal in the Grand Final, while Tedesco was unlucky to miss out on the coveted accolade after Jack Wighton snared the gong in a losing side.
While ‘Paps’ only played S.G. Ball, U16’s and U18’s for the club, he was released in 2017 from the Tigers as they ramped up their bid to retain Tedesco – unsuccessfully. The duo will be joined by Josh Addo-Carr who made his debut for the Concord club in 2016.
While each individual will undoubtedly be happy to sit back if it means the Blues lift the trophy in a few weeks time, friendly foes will reignite old battles at their Central Coast-based training facility.
Can Cody Walker and Ryan Papenhuyzen usurp those that kept them in reserve grade, or will this be another case of Deja Blue?