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The Sin Bin -- Marvin France's take on NRL.

The third coming of Todd Carney has Cronulla fans daring to dream of a return to finals footy. But before we start thinking about the September prospects of the luckless Sharks -- still searching for a first title after 44 years of trying -- it's the other team in sky blue, New South Wales, who should be rejoicing over the wayward stand-off's superb start to the season.

Having spearheaded Cronulla to three straight victories, the man who was meant to be steering the ship for the embattled Blues in last year's series finally looks ready to step up to the State of Origin arena.

You could, though, forgive coach Ricky Stuart for treading with a sense of trepidation when it comes to the extremely talented but highly combustible playmaker, who at just 25 has already been sacked by the Raiders and Roosters and been deregistered by the NRL for a year. Following his stunning 2010 season in Bondi, where he returned from exile to win the Dally M Medal and a maiden Kangaroos jumper, Stuart had Carney pencilled in as his saviour 12 months ago before he again fell off the rails in another of his alcohol-fuelled benders.

Indeed, Carney is the poster boy for the perception of current generation of NRL stars -- a walking disorderly behaviour charge with little comprehension of the word 'no'. However, he's adamant his troubles are behind him, insisting his move to the Sharks has worked wonders -- a claim backed up by his record since moving to the Shire.

And if Stuart is serious about ending Queensland's six-year stranglehold, selecting Carney (below) in the all-important No.6 jersey is a gamble he has to take. The NSW five-eighth spot is one of the most hotly contested places in the squad, with incumbent Jamie Soward, Canberra's Terry Campese, Newcastle's Jarrod Mullen and James Maloney of the Warriors all in the running. Working in Carney's favour is his strong partnership with likely half-back Mitchell Pearce, who he partnered in the halves when the Roosters reached the 2010 Grand Final.

Last weekend's 40-metre field goal to win the game against the Panthers was also a sign of a player who relishes the pressure that comes in the key moments. And while the other contenders all have valid cases for selection, none possess the creative ability and the deadly running game of the Sharks star that, despite reviving his sides' fortunes, we've only seen glimpses of over the past five rounds due in most part to the journeyman backline he has to work with.

Defence is the backbone of any team let alone an Origin side, but against a Maroons outfit containing the brilliance of Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Greg Inglis, it's inevitable the Blues are going to concede points. Adding Carney to a back division that includes Jarryd Hayne, Josh Dugan, Akuila Uate and Michael Jennings makes the Cockroaches just as dangerous.

Whether he can last until the May 23 opener without getting himself into trouble is another story, though. Carney has as many misdemeanours as he does tattoos and it would hardly surprise if we woke tomorrow to find he'd fallen back into old ways. But speaking on this season's turnaround, he revealed: "The difference is I'm now treated like a human being. I've grown up a bit too and [Cronulla coach] Shane Flanagan has been unreal. The club has put some trust in me."

Starring down the barrel of an unprecedented seventh straight defeat, it's time for NSW to do the same.


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Publication:7 Days (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:Apr 4, 2012
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