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Pivotal Anzac Day battle for Origin spot

Steve Jancetic 24/04/2011 11:57:00 AM Comments (0)

If any regular season NRL match can bring out State of Origin qualities it's the traditional Anzac Day battle, so NSW coach Ricky Stuart will surely be studying an unexpected shootout for the Blues No.6 jumper.

St George Illawarra pivot Jamie Soward will go head-to-head with Sydney Roosters skipper Braith Anasta before more than 30,000 fans at the Sydney Football Stadium on Monday - the winner not only collecting two valuable competition points but also putting their name at the forefront of Blues selectors' thoughts ahead of Origin I.

This match was always supposed to feature the man who would play five-eighth for the Blues, but Dally M Medallist Todd Carney's chances of getting back on the playing field before the series opener appear extremely slim.

Carney's indefinite ban as he battles his alcohol-related issues has opened the door for veteran Rooster teammate Anasta's positional switch back to five-eighth and a run at a NSW recall, with Soward and Newcastle playmaker Jarrod Mullen the only other viable alternatives.

Soward has long had to answer questions over his size and temperament in the Origin arena, but on the back of a dominant NRL finals series in 2010, his supporters have started lining up thick and fast.

The latest to join the queue is Dragons teammate Mark Gasnier - himself locked in a dogfight to secure a NSW start - who discovered a different Soward when he came back to the NRL midway through last year.

"I noticed a different demeanour in how he was at training and just in general and I think it's full credit to him, he's done tremendously well with the opportunities he's had here," Gasnier said.

"Jamie's played great football, definitely since I've been home he's been really good.

"He's got a new level of confidence, his kicking game's second to none ... I think he should be in the (NSW) mix."

Carney's recent troubles have compounded an already miserable start to the season for the Roosters, but as Gasnier noted, they remain essentially the same team the Dragons met in last year's grand final.

And what better stage for the Roosters to prove they remain a force - with or without Carney in their ranks.

"They'd be just as dirty as anyone that they haven't started the season the way they wanted to," Gasnier said.

"I'm sure they'll use this game as much as anything to try to turn their season around. Traditionally it's a very tough match, they always get up for it and we expect nothing less."

Having lined up alongside Anasta at Origin level in the past, Gasnier knows the Roosters won't lose too much with having their skipper back in the halves - Anasta having been forced to the backrow to accommodate Carney over the past 12 months.

"Without any disrespect to Todd, they're still a very good attacking outfit with Braith at No.6," Gasnier said.

"Obviously Todd has that extra flair and that different dimension as far as unpredictability and ad-lib football goes, but they're still a very good football team with Braith at five-eighth.

"The rest of their team speaks for itself - they didn't get to a grand final last year for nothing."

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