In some regards, I like the way NSW have gone with their selection, yet in others, I’m puddled. I’m going to break it down into the changes, and my opinion on them.
Blake Ferguson has been brought into replace the injured Nick Cotric, which was a no brainer for a replacement. He’s been the best winger in the game for the last 18 months and I believe he will really help the Blues start their sets off well with his aggressive running game, which is an area they struggled with against Queensland in that second half, where the Maroons won the field position battle.
Trobjevic has been called into replace Josh Morris. I have no issue with Trobjevic being in the side, he needs to be there considering he’s one of the best players in the game, I do question that his inclusion is at the expense of Morris, who in my opinion was one of the Blues best in Game 1. He scored the try in the first half and also had 11 tackle breaks, and was defensively sound as is always the case. I find his exclusion from the side a little unfair.
Wighton has been kept in the side, however not in the 14 role he occupied in Origin 1, he’s been drafted into replace the Blues biggest strike weapon – Latrell Mitchell. Mitchell will be the first to admit his Game 1 wasn’t up to scratch, however, I can’t see a Blues side winning without his game breaking ability on the left edge.
Would Queensland ever have dropped G.I? There are some players that need to be in the Origin arena, and I think the media circus surrounding Mitchell’s Game 1 performance and the question marks over his current mentality, have caused Fittler to make this decision, one that I believe is rash and to the detriment of the Blues side.
Maloney has come in for Walker as the five-eighth. I feel sorry for Walker, he wasn’t given the platform to excel in Game 1 and as a result, he becomes one of the consequences of very poor second half team performance.
Although I don’t feel Walker has been treated fairly, I can’t argue with the inclusion of James Maloney. Not enough was made of his contribution last year and I don’t think NSW win the series without Maloney in 2018, that’s how much of an influence he has on the side. I don’t think Fittler was ever going to drop Cleary and he’s therefore made the sensible decision to bring Maloney into partner him.
This wasn’t initially going to be the case however, Pearce was set to play in the 6 if not for a leg cork. To me, that’s a blessing in disguise for both Pearce and the side, I don’t think the combination would have worked and Pearce would again have been made the scapegoat for a series loss.
Saifiti is in for the injured Klemmer in the starting front row. NSW came a bit scarce for options considering injuries to MacLean and Haas, and Saifiti has had a strong start to the year. It’s a big ask for an inexperienced debutant to start in a crucial game, however he’s a similar build to Klemmer and plays aggressive, which is probably why Fittler has picked him.
The bench has a few wholesale changes, which were partly forced due to the injuries to Haas and also WIghton moving to centre. I’m extremely happy to see Finucane finally get his shot in the Origin arena, there’s not a player more deserving in rugby league than him and it’s just reward for his consistency in a star studded Melbourne pack, where I believe he’s been their best forward for the past two years.
Tariq Sims comes in as the replacement for Angus Crichton, which makes a lot of sense to me. Crichton is a specialist backrower and he will only go on at the expense of bringing off either Cordner or Frizell, two of the five best back rowers in the game who can easily play 80 minutes. His replacement however, Sims, has the ability to play as an edge forward or in the middle, where he is equally effective.
I thought played extremely well in Game 3 last year, aside from his costly error when tackling Hunt at marker. I think he will go on as a middle forward, and he’s so big and aggressive he will mix it up with the fiery Queensland forwards – McGuire, Napa and Fifita.
Wade Graham has been drafted in after only two games back, which people are questioning the decision considering his lack of game time. My response however is that if Wade Graham is fit or available, he’s in the 17 for NSW and Australia.
He just brings something that no other forward in the game does, at least not as effectively. He’s got the beautiful balance of being extremely physical with his running and tackling game, yet he doubles up as a fantastic ball player and a left foot kicking game that’s the envy of half backs in the competition.
I remember watching him in Game 1 2017 up at Suncorp, he terrorised the Queensland side with his ball playing, linking fantastically with Tedesco, Freddie will be hoping for more of the same.
Overall I think the majority of changes needed making, and I like the choice of replacements Fittler has gone for, especially the fact that his bench is much larger now, which is an area I feel Queensland held advantage as they had the bigger men to bring on. In contrast, the dropping of Mitchell to me seems crazy, on his day, he’s the most damaging player in the game, and I don’t believe a poor Game 1 is enough to warrant dropping the Blues’ biggest strike weapon.
The Queensland team have only made two changes and they were forced, due to injuries to Arrow and Ofahengue. Arrow is a massive loss for the Maroons, his first stint wasn’t his greatest however when he came back on he really troubled the Blues with his strong running, and he was prominent in that 10 minutes where Queensland were really aggressive and defensively physical.
Napa has been pushed to the starting side, which is definitely the best decision from Walters. I was extremely impressed with Napa in Game 1 and not for the usual reasons you’d associate with Napa. He was physical in defence and went looking for the big hit, which is why he’s in the team, but his contribution offensively is what really pleased me about Napa.
He got through a load of work and was doubling up with his carries on sets, which considering he’s Queenslands biggest forward, was something he needed to do off the bench to help replicate the workhorse Jai Arrow’s contributions.
The replacement for Arrow is his club teammate Wallace. He’s been in great form for the Titans and is a really strong club player, however I have questioned his effectiveness in the Origin arena. In the first 3 Origin games he played, he didn’t run for over 50 metres, I know it’s sometimes hard for a middle forward to make metres in Origin but a better return is definitely required from Wallace. If he takes his Titans form into the match, I’m sure he will prove me wrong.
Glasby is the other middle forward who’s called into replace Ofahengue. Whenever he’s been called upon by his state, he’s never let the team down. His job is to generate the quick play the balls and make sure he’s sound defensively and slowing the ruck down, which he is very effective at as he comes from the Melbourne system.
One thing I like about the inclusion with Glasby is he’s always consistent with his output, and you don’t lose a lot with him replacing one of your middle forwards as he goes through a lot of work and keeps the middle of the ruck tight, which is integral when the opposition contain the two best players at exposing that in Cook and Tedesco.
I was disappointed that Welch wasn’t in the 17, I think his form for the Storm warrants a chance at Origin and in the 2019 season, his game has gone to another level. He even replaced Asofa-Solomona in the starting side for a couple of weeks. He’s a stronger ball runner in my opinion than the two replacements in Glasby and Wallace and considering they won’t have the punch off the bench in Napa, I think it would have been a smart inclusion to have Welch on the bench.
Overall the Maroons side has been forced to make changes due to injuries. If there weren’t any injuries I wouldn’t think Kevvie Walters would’ve swapped anyone considering how strong their Game 1 performance was. I’d like to see Fifita utilised in the same capacity again, coming on as a middle forward and using his leg speed and offload to offer something different to the less mobile starting pack.
I’d also like to see Mbye brought on sooner at hooker, around the 50/60 minute mark, not that Hunt needs a rest, in fact I thought he was fantastic in the 9 for Queensland. However I’d like to see Mbye have more minutes in the 9 too allow him to utilise his speed out of dummy half to try catch the Blues forwards around the ruck. He’s a deceptively strong player and has a great ability to break tackles, coupled with his experience of playing 9 (he played the 2014 Grand Final at dummy half) I think he could cause the Blues defence trouble.