Despite only a tight 18-14 Maroons victory in game one, the New South Wales side that will take to the field at Optus Stadium for game two, is barely recognisable to the one that failed at Suncorp Stadium.
It isn’t only injuries to David Klemmer, Payne Haas and Nick Cotric that have informed the decision making process behind the changes and every man and his dog has a view on them.
Coach Brad Fittler has been the most talked about man south of the border throughout the week, with many believing he is well wide of the mark when it comes to the men he has dropped and/or promoted.
Daniel Saifiti comes in as a straight swap for the injured Klemmer, as do Dale Finucane and Blake Ferguson, filling the spots vacated by the injured Haas and Cotric.
However, it is his other choices that have seen fans take to social media, baffled by some of Fittler’s preferences for a must win Origin match. Personally, I have been stunned by some of the opinion being sprouted; much of which death knells the Blues’ chances, despite Origins’ traditionally close score lines.
There will be some rather messy egg on a lot of faces should the Blues get the job done in the west and Fittler might be well within his rights to demand more respect for his tactical nous in the future.
Alternatively, there will be a collective “I told you so”, should Queensland wrap up the series and claim their 12th title in 15 years.
At the heart of criticism around Fittler’s state of mind and his 2019 selection decisions are the halves he has chosen. An out of form Nathan Cleary was selected for Origin 1, alongside the untried Cody Walker.
It proved to be a disaster, with Walker replaced early in the second half and Cleary’s club form reflected in his performance.
In response, Fittler selected New South Wales’ old faithful for game two, Mitchell Pearce, before the Knights’ half was ruled out with injury. Then, in came James Maloney; recalled to the team to partner Cleary in a combination that many people felt should have taken to the field in game one based on incumbency.
The selection of the centre pairing has also caused much angst with fans, with Josh Morris left out after an excellent performance in game one to make way for Tom Trbojevic, and Latrell Mitchell also sensationally axed.
A commonly held view is that the Blues cannot win without Mitchell, despite some recent off-field stresses. If that does prove to be the case and the potency he offers on the left edge sorely missed, the coach will look to have made the wrong call around what he claimed was, “the hardest thing I had to do.”
Many feel it is potentially the most stupid thing he has done. Time will tell.
Canberra’s Jack Wighton will partner Trbojevic in the centres with a total of four collective games in that position over the last five years. Their selection together and at the expense of Mitchell, stands to be idiotic and foolhardy or a brilliant masterstroke that the Maroons never saw coming.
I guess we will all know on Monday.
The widely held belief that Wade Graham offers a rare ball playing and creative skill set for a back-rower has once again seen him selected, despite just two games under his belt after returning from an extended period on the sideline with injury.
He replaces Angus Crichton, who like Walker, stank in game one. However, both have lit up the NRL competition over the first three months of the season and potentially deserved a second chance.
Those questioning the men who have taken their places and their effectiveness at Origin level would undoubtedly believe that a mulligan could have been granted. But no, Fittler has made his bed and seems happy to lie in it whatever the outcome.
We all know Brad Fittler is a little bit different; a touch Zen with a little Byron Bay thrown in, and many believe this team is a perfect reflection of his quirkiness.
The problem is, this is Origin and there are no more chances for the Blues. Should his side fail, the naysayers will cite the foolish selections and unnecessary changes.
However, should the Blues win, the New South Wales coach will be validated and the arm chair critics can all go and ‘suck on that one’, as Sam Kerr would say.