While Wallaby coach Robbie Deans wrestles with a backline that can’t stop senseless kicking and Will Genia sits out for the year, Australian cricket coach Mickey Arthur’s side are ninth in the world Twenty20 rankings. However Mal Meninga has a problem of another kind.
What does the Queensland Origin coach do with superstar fullback Ben Barba, winner of every meaningful rugby league award in 2012?
Barba has been a standout for two seasons, but has never got a look-in to play an Origin game for the all-conquering Maroons, because mighty Mal has an embarrassment of riches to wear the No 1 jersey with Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, Matt Bowen as well as Barba, a dynamic quartet.
Slater summed up Barba best, saying he does things on the field Slater himself can’t do. There can be no better salute from an all-time great custodian.
So Meninga must pick Barba, which would force Slater onto the wing, leaving Inglis at centre, with Bowen left on the outer, unless he too claims a wing spot.
The two current wingers Darius Boyd and Brent Tate haven’t done too much wrong, but despite that, if Meninga launched a backline of Barba, Slater, Inglis, Bowen, Justin Hodges, Johnathan Thurston, and Cooper Cronk on NSW next year, new Blues coach Laurie Daley will have nightmares for months trying to fathom how to stop a tidal wave of talent.
Any one of those seven can appear from nowhere and have support from all directions. It would have to be rated one of the most exciting and most devastating backlines in rugby league history.
And it’s no coincidence that every one of that backline, with the exception of Hodges, is still playing a vital role at the business end of the NRL finals series.
Cowboys Thurston and Bowen will give reigning premiers Manly many a headache tonight in their sudden-death semi at Allianz Stadium, but crack Manly fullback Brett Stewart will have something to say about that.
Rabbitoh Inglis will do the same from fullback against the in-form Raiders tomorrow night at ANZ Stadium, who will retaliate with another class fullback in Josh Dugan.
Next Friday night the Slater-Cronk inspired Melbourne Storm, with a lot of help from skipper-hooker Cameron Smith, take on the winner of the Manly-Cowboys clash, and next Saturday night Barba will be back on duty for the premiership contending Bulldogs up against the winner of the Rabbitohs-Raiders game.
But whichever club wins the big one, 2012 will always be remembered as the year of the brilliant fullbacks, especially Ben Barba.