NSW Blues can't pick same halves: Bennett

Souths coach Wayne Bennett says James Maloney (pic) is not in hot enough form to start for NSW.
Souths coach Wayne Bennett says James Maloney (pic) is not in hot enough form to start for NSW.

NSW State of Origin coach Brad Fittler says that, with all due respect, he won't be taking Blues selection tips from former long-time Queensland mentor Wayne Bennett.

Bennett claimed incumbent NSW halves James Maloney and Nathan Cleary must be sacked after watching his own red-hot playmakers Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds pilot the Rabbitohs to the top of the NRL on Saturday.

Bennett stopped short of saying Walker and Reynolds should replace the out-of-form Blues pairing, but advised Fittler against retaining Maloney and Cleary, who have struggled for bottom-placed Penrith this season.

"I'll say what no one else wants to say: they cannot pick the halfback and five-eighth from last year," Bennett said.

"The positions they play, if you think you can go and play an Origin game in that type of form and be stars, it's not going to happen.

"If they're forwards then maybe, but not key playmakers. They're all about confidence and you've either got it or you haven't got it.

"The people who matter most need to stop talking about last years' pairing because they're terribly out of form.

"Those positions require confidence and belief in yourself and to be playing well week in week out. That's not happening for them.

"So from my point of view it's too big a risk and not worth the risk when you've got other players that are playing that well and would fit in the team beautifully without a hiccup.

"There are too many quality players in this competition that happen to wear NSW jerseys for those guys to have to be picked."

Souths downed Canberra 16-12 for their sixth straight win and could have as many as five players picked in Origin.

"I'm not pushing anybody from my club for selection - they'll get selected on merit," Bennett said.

"(But) the bottom line is they're form players, playing great football and full of confidence and there's nobody they're going to play in the Queensland team they haven't played at club level.

"They won't go into that game lacking confidence because their club form says they're full of confidence."

Fittler acknowledged Reynolds and Walker as being "absolutely outstanding" this season, but said Bennett was clearly pushing for his own players and "now coaching NSW".

"Without doubt, they're the best halves in the competition," Fittler said on The Sunday Footy Show on the Nine Network.

"So when he speaks about State of Origin sitting there with his Souths jacket on, I don't think he's got the best will of NSW necessarily when he's giving his advice.

"I really respect and appreciate Wayne's thoughts and I love how when he wants to poke his nose into Origin, he does.

"But when he was talking then, he was really boosting the performance of his halves - and they thoroughly deserve boosting."

Australian Associated Press