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Are Brooks and Moses the answer to our Origin prayers?

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Spirit of the Game
Mitchel Moses in Game II of 2023’s State of Origin. Credit: NRL on Nine, Wide World of Sports – YouTube

I had planned last week to write on who might accompany Nathan Cleary in the NSW halves for Game I of State of Origin. Thankfully the Mariners’ AFC Cup win had me hitting the backspace key on that idea, otherwise my column might have been short-lived.

With Penrith’s star halfback now ruled out for eight weeks, the Blues have the chance to shake things up for the series opener on 5 June. My suggestion: a new-look halves partnership of Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses.

Yes, I said Luke Brooks. Hear me out.

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It’s hard to genuinely look past the in-form number six who is experiencing a glorious resurgence to his career in 2024 at the Sea Eagles after years as a scapegoat for the Tigers’ lack of success.

This year he has proven himself a valuable halves partner with the freedom to play to his strengths when alongside a commanding halfback like Daly Cherry-Evans.

That’s obvious with eight try assists and 10 line-break assists so far in 10 games, the second most of any NSW five-eighth.

If there is anyone else Brooks can replicate this form beside, it’s Moses.

The impact the Parramatta halfback has on a game of rugby league is easiest to see when he actually isn’t in it. Moses’ kicking game is the best in the NRL outside of Cleary and Adam Reynolds and was a standout in his two NSW caps last year.

Spirit of the game
Luke Brooks breaks the line in Manly colours against Sydney Roosters. Credit: NRL on Nine, Wide World of Sports – YouTube

The Eels’ season has derailed since losing him to a fractured foot after round three and its clear they’ll need his trusted boot more than ever if he returns this Sunday.

Blues fans will also hope Moses is fit to play if he’s to get enough game time in before Origin.

Moses together with Brooks wouldn’t be short on chemistry considering they came through the juniors together, played together as young halves at the Tigers, for a while lived together and have been best friends for years.

Even after Moses moved to Parramatta in 2017 they remained close, and Brooks even admitted last year he would relish the chance to play together again now as two seniors of the game.

What’s more, Moses and Brooks would be re-teaming with Michael Maguire, their old Tigers boss, who in his first Origin game in charge will know how to get the best out of the pair.

So much of NSW’s success in the past 10 years has stemmed from the connection and trust between its halves partners. Think of 2014’s Bulldogs playmakers Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson who broke the eight-year Origin drought or the Panther power of Jarome Luai and Cleary in 2021.

Brooks’ selection is all the more important considering the Blues will be up against experienced Queenslander Cherry-Evans, his halves partner at Manly. The five-eighth’s insight into Evans is the best chance NSW have of derailing his game.

It seems unfair to cull Luai from the NSW team after three years alongside Cleary. However, it’s nothing new to say that Luai’s success is more often than not dependent on who is next to him in the seven jersey.

Though impressive for Penrith this year without Cleary at times, Luai produces his best footy when alongside an organising half he’s comfortable with.

While he will want to prove critics wrong next year when he makes the solo move to the Tigers, it’s not a theory I’d risk putting to the test this year when we’re trying to avoid a QLD ‘three-peat’.

Cody Walker or Luke Keary are also valid options, but Cody’s eyes should be firmly fixed on restoring something to the Rabbitoh’s nightmare season, while Keary’s recent retirement announcement means he’s more than likely hoping to make the most of his remaining time in a Roosters jersey.

While individual player brilliance is important, you can’t rule out this is a team sport. The two players that fill the voids must be able to complement each other if NSW is to have any chance of success.

Despite his injuries, Moses currently looks comfortable in a two-horse race for the halfback spot with flying shark Nicho Hynes. While Brooks may not be talked about enough, now may be a better time than ever to finally pull the trigger.

While separate players might be more obvious first choice picks, as one-unit Brooks and Moses are perhaps the best fit and deserve the chance to deliver something special for NSW.

When he names his team in a little over one week’s time, new coach Maguire has the opportunity to turn a Blues injury crisis into a creative masterstroke with his former players.

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