NSW Blues halves: NRL.com experts have their say

Even though NSW won last year's State of Origin series that hasn't stopped the debate about their halves combination for 2019.

The NRL.com experts have their say on who should wear the No.6 and No.7 for the Blues this year.

NRL.com's experts view

Brett Kimmorley (Former Kangaroos halfback)

Luke Keary and Nathan Cleary. After Keary's excellence in the grand final and then into the World Club Challenge and now the start of the year, how can you keep him out? As for Nathan Cleary, he showed last year he can manage a game. You can't pick him, win a series and then throw him out. He deserves more time to get used to Origin play. He also kicks the goals for this side.

Steve Renouf (Maroons legend)

I reckon Brad Fittler will stick with the incumbent Blues halves James Maloney and Nathan Cleary. They did the job last year and I reckon Freddy is big on sticking with a winning team, which is also the Queensland way. Even though Penrith aren't going that well Freddy will be confident they'll step up in that Origin arena.

Jamie Soward (Former Blues five-eighth)

Luke Keary and Nathan Cleary. NSW coach Brad Fittler rewards form and Keary is the form half of the competition, while incumbent No.7 Cleary will only get better with one Origin campaign under his belt and can look after the left side of the attack with Keary on the right.

Margie McDonald (NRL.com senior reporter)

Adam Reynolds and Luke Keary. They won a premiership together and have better form right now for their respective teams than Nathan Cleary and James Maloney. As much as I'm a fan of keeping club combinations in Origin, having a pair that were teammates for four years is just as good.

Maria Tsialis (Big League editor)

Nathan Cleary and Luke Keary have to be there. Cleary is the man for hopefully the next decade and I don't think you can drop him because his team isn't performing well. Keary's form has been irresistible - like Cleary, he has a long career ahead of him. They could be the halves pairing for a very long time.

Paul Suttor (NRL.com editor)

James Maloney was tremendous for NSW last year and has done a great job whenever he's worn the sky-blue jersey in recent years but his form for Penrith does not warrant higher honours. Luke Keary broke into the Test scene at the end of last year, has been one of the best players in the Telstra Premiership over the early rounds and would be an ideal instinctive halves partner alongside Nathan Cleary as the Blues' chief playmaker.

Brad Walter (NRL.com senior reporter)

Adam Reynolds and Luke Keary. Reynolds is a premiership-winning halfback with the best kicking game in the NRL and Keary is an incumbent Australian five-eighth after coming of age playing alongside Cooper Cronk at the Roosters scrumbase to win the Clive Churchill Medal in last year's grand final. Reynolds and Keary also have the benefit of playing together at Souths.

Brett Keeble (NRL.com reporter)

NSW play this game every year and Queensland just laugh about it. Unless their form deteriorates dramatically in the next few weeks, NSW incumbents James Maloney and Nathan Cleary are entitled to keep their spots for Game One. They helped the Blues win the 2018 series and are entitled to first crack this year, despite the form of other candidates including Luke Keary, Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker.

Lone Scout (NRL Fantasy expert)

Luke Keary is the form playmaker of the competition and really should be there, so the tough question is deciding on his halves partner. The club combination that helped the cases of both Maloney and Cleary last year is no longer a factor and as promising as Cleary is I'd instead lean towards an in-form organiser in Adam Reynolds, who has thrived under the coaching of Wayne Bennett this season and also doubles as the team's new goal-kicker.

Dan Walsh (NRL.com reporter)

James Maloney and Luke Keary. Maloney's experience and cool head in last year's series can't be underestimated, nor his goalkicking this time around if we're looking at Keary in the halves. The Roosters' pocket rocket has been simply irresistible and saves his best for the biggest stage. A Tricolours left edge of he, Boyd Cordner and Latrell Mitchell is downright mouthwatering.

Tony Webeck (NRL.com reporter)

It pains me to say it as President of the James Maloney fan club but Luke Keary is now an elite half who demands selection and Nathan Cleary is the cool-head who holds the Blues' future in his hands (not to mention right boot). Keary and Cleary, got a nice ring to it.

Alicia Newton (NRL.com reporter)

Nathan Cleary and James Maloney. Stick with what worked last year regardless of how the pair are playing. They looked a lot better against the Rabbitohs and have the runs on the board. It has to count for something.

Joel Gould (NRL.com reporter)

I would persist with Nathan Cleary at halfback in this year's Blues side but Luke Keary has stamped himself as the dominant playmaker in the NRL this year. He has represented Australia and his confidence, toughness and game smarts are all ideally suited to the State of Origin arena. His form is simply too good to ignore.

Corey Rosser (NRL.com reporter)

Nathan Cleary and Luke Keary. James Maloney will be 33 by the time Origin II comes around, and there's no better time to replace him than right now while Keary is in career-best form. Cleary is the future of that side and should be picked despite patchy club form.

Michael Chammas (NRL.com chief reporter)

Luke Keary replaces James Maloney for me and joins Nathan Cleary in the halves. I think it's time for the Blues to start planning for the future and there's the potential that these two can be the NSW halves for a long time.

Jonathan Healy (NRL.com reporter)

Although it would be tempting for Brad Fittler to try in-form five-eighth Luke Keary, he has no choice but to stick with Panthers duo Nathan Cleary and James Maloney. The pair did well last year and deserve first crack in 2019.

Mary Konstantopoulos (Ladies Who League)

Brad Fittler is caught between a rock and a hard place, but in my view, Cody Walker and Luke Keary have both been in career-best form and it would be foolish not to pick them for State of Origin Game I. Players should be encouraged to play their best footy and know they can be rewarded with an Origin jumper based on that form.

Chris Kennedy (NRL.com reporter)

I've changed my mind on this so many times. There's a huge case for incumbency after a winning series but Luke Keary is the form player across the whole NRL. If James Maloney were to play this series it would surely be his last so there's an argument to start the future planning now – I'm leaning towards a Nathan Cleary-Luke Keary combination.

Zac Bailey (NRL.com reporter)

If Origin I was this weekend I'd pick Nathan Cleary and James Maloney. They're not in the best form at club level, but the calibre of players around them at Origin level would see them both rise to the occasion. Both would have better protection in defence – and better options overall in attack. A lot can and will happen in the next month. If Maloney is injured or falls horribly out of form, I'd call upon 2018 Clive Churchill medallist Luke Keary. It's easier to go with the incumbents and make a change if doesn't work, rather than go with a fresh face an have egg all over it.

Tanisha Stanton (NRL.com reporter)

If there was ever a right time for NSW to start building towards the future it's now. 2019 marks the perfect opportunity to birth a long-term partnership between two young playmakers. I think Nathan Cleary will remain as the Blues halfback as I don't see Brad Fittler shattering his confidence after the Panthers slow start to this season. James Maloney's current form however doesn't warrant automatic selection with the likes of Luke Keary putting his hand up for the five-eighth role after making his Kangaroos debut and collecting the Clive Churchill Medal on grand final day.

Kenny Scott (NRL.com podcaster)

While Pearce, Moses, Walker and Reynolds are all putting their hands up for consideration, a dud start in clubland shouldn't automatically wipe you from the team sheet if you've done the job before. Cleary and Maloney will retain their positions but will likely only be given game one to show the NSW faithful that they deserve to be there. Most people have NSW winning the series before a ball's even been kicked so there will be no charity given if they don't perform to expectations.

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.