The Unlucky New South Wales XIII

Since the original Origin game in 1980, 267 players have represented the Blues. Who were the unlucky 13 to miss out?

State of Origin is regarded by many as the pinnacle for a rugby league player. Playing for your country should be the highest honour but with the state of International football in disarray in the past, representing their state has been the standout moment in a career for some time. 

Not everyone has the chance to play for their state, despite representing their country, so that begs the question who have been the players deserving of a Blues jersey but unable to reach the feat. Some names on this list have played for the Kangaroos while others are former Dally M winners. 

Now there are conditions for the players selected in this team:

– Must have been eligible for New South Wales in their career

– Never represented their state at the top level 

– Played in the ‘NRL Era’ at any stage (1998 to present)

So with no more waiting lets look at the ‘NSW Unlucky 13.’

  1. 1 Luke Patten (1998-2010)

    The man affectionately known as 'The General' was a Premiership winner with the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in 2004 but also played fullback for the St George-Illawarra Dragons in their heartbreaking loss to the Melbourne Storm in the 1999 decider.

    Patten was a mainstay for the Bulldogs from 2001 until his departure to the Salford City Reds in the English Super League in 2011. He finished his time at the Belmore-based club with 82 tries in 225 appearances and had great partnerships with the likes of Brent Sherwin and Brett Kimmorley late in his career.

    The fullback was unfortunate in his career as he could not make that final step into the NSW team as he sat behind one of the best fullbacks of his generation, Anthony Minichello. Patten represented City in the annual City v Country clash on three occasions finishing with two tries.

    The closest the custodian came to a Blues jersey was in 2009 when he was named as 19th man but would not get onto the field as Kurt Gidley was in the role and was the state's captain.

    Despite the vast array of fullbacks who have represented the Blues in recent years if Patten had played in this generation he may have represented his state. However, that would not be the case and it will be a case of what if for 'The General'.

  2. 2 Nathan Blacklock (1995-2004)

    Another member of the losing 1999 St George-Illawarra Dragons side, Blacklock was one of the most electric wingers the NRL has ever seen. His ability to find the try-line was almost unrivalled from his debut in 1995 with the Sydney Roosters up to his final game in the NRL in 2004.

    Crossing for 100 tries in 114 games for the joint-venture club, the winger was leading try-scorer for three consecutive seasons from 1999 to 2001. Despite these try-scoring feats he could not crack the Blues lineup. In those three years the likes of Darren Albert, Adam MacDougall, Matt Geyer and Jamie Ainscough were selected on the wing. There was plenty of controversy at the time that Blacklock had been overlooked despite being the form winger. NSW selectors explained that they were worried about him being too small and was a defensive liability against Wendell Sailor and Lote Tuqiri. NSW would end up losing the series in 2001 and Blacklock quit the game in 2002 to play Rugby Union before returning to the Dragons in 2003.

    While he missed out on selection in the 2001 Origin side, 27 tries in 28 games sealed his spot in the 2001 Kangaroos tour where he played two games for two tries.

    Nathan Merritt was a player similar to Blacklock in the sense he was a prolific try-scorer who was constantly overlooked but in Merritt's case he was eventually rewarded. Blacklock should have played for NSW just for his scoring record alone but unfortunately he will go down in the record books as missing out.

  3. 3 Jarrod Croker (2009-Present)

    One of three current players, the youngest member of this squad still has plenty of opportunities. Despite being the competition's leading point scorer on three occasions (2012, 2015 and 2016), he has been overlooked time and time again. 

    New coaches have come and gone in the Blues set up and with Brad Fittler the latest to step up it looks like another year for the centre to miss out. James Roberts and Latrell Mitchell have been selected for Game one even though Croker has scored 113 tries and kicked 632 goals in 224 games despite only being 27-years-old.

    He is solid in defence, can kick goals and with Nick Cotric in the extended squad then the combination down the left flank could have been crucial. Even if he is not selected this series, he has at least three more seasons to feature but time is ticking.

    Canberra in recent time have notoriously been overlooked in favour of Sydney players, as you will see on this list, so Croker may be another name who did everything he could yet unable to put on that Blues jersey.

  4. 4 Chris Lawrence (2006-Present)

    Fun fact about Chris Lawrence (or yours truly) is that I attended St Gregory's College at the same time the young centre was picked from Year 12 to represent the Wests Tigers at Suncorp Stadium against the Brisbane Broncos as a 17-year-old. 

    Having represented the Australian Schoolboys in 2006, there were big hopes for the Eaglevale St Andrews junior from day one. After scoring two tries in five games in his debut season, he continued to cement his place in the Tigers side before he was rewarded for his form with selection in the 2009 City vs Country fixture but was unfortunately ruled out with injury. 12 months later he would finally represent City (one of three appearances).

    2011 was the year that changed his career forever as a game at Campbelltown Stadium against the Canberra Raiders saw him end the night with a dislocated hip. The injury cost him three months of his career but even though he missed that time he was selected for the end-of-year Kangaroos team.

    Lawrence was known for his blistering pace and solid frame but that hip injury seemed to slow him down as he struggled in the centres in recent years which forced him to shift to the back-row.  Without that injury I know he would have been a centre for NSW and may have helped shift the balance of power in State of Origin.

  5. 5 Amos Roberts (2000-2008)

    Amos Roberts was one of my favourite players to watch growing up. The former Dragon, Panther and Rooster knew how to find the tryline, highlighted by the fact he crossed for 106 tries in 177 games in the NRL.

    2004 was his best season and the one where he should have represented his state. He was the leading try-scorer in the competition and at the Dally M awards was awarded the Dally M winger of the year. Taking nothing away from the abilities of Luke Lewis and Luke Rooney but Roberts lining up against Matt Sing or Billy Slater would have been a salivating prospect.

    While he missed out on NSW selection, he represented Country as a Kempsey junior on five occasions for four tries further showing that even at representative level he was clinical.

    It is too late for Amos but he will get to see his nephew James Roberts put on the jersey in game one this season.

  6. 6 Preston Campbell (1998-2011)

    Preston Campbell may not have been the biggest player, but what he lacked in size he made up for with heart and outstanding footwork. Over a 14 year career, 267 games and 86 tries, he had people out of their seats in their lounge rooms and in the stadiums.

    Campbell was rewarded with many accolades in his career but none were bigger than being awarded the Dally M Medal in 2001. What made it even more incredible is that he spent the two years prior in reserve grade before being given the chance at fullback due to an injury to the regular number one, David Peachey. After Peachey returned, he made the move to the halfback role and continued to shine. Unfortunately, that season he was sitting behind Brad Fittler and Brett Kimmorley for NSW so he couldn't crack the side.

    After winning that Dally M medal in 2001, he would move to the Penrith Panthers in 2003 where he would continue in the halves. His form along with that of his teammates led them all the way to a Premiership, the club's first since 1991.

    In terms of representative football, it would not be until 2005 that he would play for the Country team. From there he would play for three consecutive seasons but that would be the last of the rep honours as he became one of few Dally M medal winners eligible for Origin to miss out.

  7. 7 Matt Orford (2000-2011)

    Speaking of Dally M medalists missing out on Origin, halfback Matt Orford is another that springs to mind. The 2008 winner with the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles had a few chances to represent the Blues but injury cruelly would get in the way.

    Despite making his debut for the defunct Northern Eagles in 2000, it would take until 2004 when he would get the chance to come into the Blues set up. In game two of the series Brett Kimmorley was a late scratching with an injury so the Blues hierarchy called in Orford. Unfortunately, a calf complaint would mean he would be ruled out and Brett Finch would famously step in and kick the match winning field goal.

    Two years later he joined the Sea Eagles and was selected for City for the third time (after appearing in 2001 and 2004) and was on track to replace Craig Gower who was injured the night before the game but it was Finch again who got the spot and it became a case of an opportunity missed.

    Orford played much tougher than his size and after leading the Sea Eagles to a 40-0 demolition of the Melbourne Storm in 2008, he should have played plenty of games for NSW and probably Australia. However, he was playing in a generation of quality halfbacks and couldn't jump the queue in his career.

  8. 8 Darren Britt (1989-2001)

    Darren Britt was as tough as they come. A prop forward who played for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and Western Suburbs, he represented Australia on nine occasions and the City Origin side in 2001 in his last season in the NRL. 

    There are records that players aspire to reach like most tries or points in a season but some records are ironically impressive. Despite making those nine appearances for the Kangaroos, that is the most international appearances without playing Origin of any player. He played in the 1999 Tri-Nations final against New Zealand yet couldn't crack the NSW side. To put that in perspective, the Props in the 1999 series was a mainstay in Jason Stevens and Mark Carroll but also Rodney Howe. Howe played five games for Australia and eight games for NSW but most NRL fans would not even recognise the name.

    Britt may not have the chance to represent NSW but there is still hope for the Britt family as his son Dean is a part of the South Sydney Rabbitohs system.

  9. 9 Nathan Brown (1993-2000)

    The original Nathan Brown, before the Eels enforcer followed on with his name, was a skilful dummy-half who played 172 games across both the St George Dragons and the merged St George-Illawarra Dragons.

    Grand Finals were not a happy place for 'Browny' as he was unsuccessful three times, in 1993, 1996 and 1999. Despite those losses he was always one of the star players for the Dragons and was unlucky to not play for NSW.

    The late 1990s for NSW was a time of picking halfbacks in the number nine role. Similar to Craig Bellamy having an affinity with picking short wingers, Phil Gould, Tommy Raudonikis and Wayne Pearce had the thought process of picking the best players rather than specialists as future Immortal Andrew Johns, fellow future coach Geoff Toovey and even Craig Gower was picked over Brown who played week in and week out in the role. 

  10. 10 John Skandalis (1996-2010)

    As a Wests Tigers fan growing up, 'Skando' was one of my favourite players. Not the most flashy player, he gave his all every time he stepped onto that field but wasn't always recognised for his efforts.

    Starting his career with the Western Suburbs Magpies in 1996, he then moved to the Wests Tigers when they came into the competition in 2000. From there he would make 166 appearances with 15 tries thrown in.

    Representative honours would not escape the prop despite not reaching Origin. From 2002 to 2006, he would pull on the jersey for City and even crossed for a try. He remained in conversations around Origin but was stuck behind some of the best props in Luke Bailey, Jason Ryles, Robbie Kearns and Mark O'Meley. In saying that, taking nothing away from Ryan O'Hara but with his selection there might have been a spot for Skandalis in that case.

    Skandalis returned to the club in 2009 but was there as a mentor for the younger squad members and only played 19 games across two seasons despite retiring at the end of 2009.

  11. 11 Lance Thompson (1995-2008)

    Lance Thompson stood out every time he ran out on the field. His striking red hair made him an easy target on the field but he never backed down from a challenge in his career.

    Making his debut as a 17-year-old for the St George Dragons in 1995, he would play 69 games for the club before they became the St George-Illawarra Dragons. It was there when he would play in the 1999 grand final in a losing side against the Melbourne Storm.

    The first representative honour for Thompson came in 2001 as he lined up for City, a side he would make 5 appearances from then until 2007. To make the next step to Origin he had to get in front of the likes of Ben Kennedy, Nathan Hindmarsh and Steve Simpson.

    The second rower had no preservations for his body and gave his all for whatever jersey he put on but injuries would get the best of him and one of the Dragons most loved players would miss out wearing the Blue of NSW.

  12. 12 Shaun Fensom (2009-Present)

    The curious case of Shaun Fensom still baffles me to this day. Built in the mould of a Dallas Johnson, who played 12 games for the Maroons, Fensom could not play representative football at any stage of his career. He is still an active competitor but with the annual City v Country fixture extinct, he may not get the reward he deserved.

    Since his debut in 2009, the forward has tackled himself into the ground on countless occasions. No example was clearer than in Round 11 of 2011 when he made an equal record 75 tackles in one game against the Bulldogs. 

    In 2011 and 2012 he was awarded the Mal Meninga Medal for the Raiders player of the year but was continued to be overlooked for Country. The annual City v Country game was always questioned about its validity but in 2011 Glenn Stewart was selected in the side despite having already represented NSW. This was also the case in 2012 when the rear of the scrum read Beau Scott, Ben Creagh and Greg Bird. They are all representative players in their own right so why not use the game to give players a chance? 

    Not only do I think Fensom deserved to play for Country he would not have looked out of place for NSW. Unless he rockets back into calculations over the next few seasons, we will have missed him chopping down Queenslanders all over Suncorp Stadium.

  13. 13 Alan Tongue (2000-2011)

    Now if you think I am disappointed about Shawn Fenson not playing for NSW, I'm not sure you want me to get started on Alan Tongue. The boy from Tamworth was everything you would want in a player standing next to you in the lineup for Origin. He tackles all day, put his body on the line and was unselfish.

    After making his debut for the Raiders in 2000, he became a utility for the Green Machine. Floating between back-row, bench and dummy-half, he filled in where the team needed. 

    Despite having such versatility, he was awarded the player of the year in 2006 before in 2008 he reached the pinnacle of his career after winning Dally M Lock and Captain of the year and making his debut in the Prime Minister's XIII side.

    A lone Country origin appearance would follow in 2009 but sadly that would be the last of the honours before his retirement in 2011.

    There are hundreds of players who don't get the luxury of representing their state but these 13 stand out as ones who would have not looked out of place in a Sky Blue jersey.

    Have I missed anyone? Leave your thoughts down in the comments section below.

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