NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler has revealed that Brisbane Broncos star Tevita Pangai Junior has aligned himself with NSW for next year’s State of Origin Series.
The 22-year-old was eligible for both the Blues and Tonga due to the Mate Ma’a being classified a second-tier rugby league nation.
And after being named to NSW’s 32-man training squad in Sydney next month, Fittler has confirmed Pangai Junior’s availability for the 2019 Origin Series.
“He’s committing to the Blues for the series,” Fittler told Channel 9.
“He understands there’s a Tongan Test match in the middle of that and he’s happy to walk away from that.
“He’ll get the opportunity to play for Tonga at the end of the year.
“He recognises where he’s from. He grew up in Newcastle.
“He’s a really good player. Young kid. He did a fantastic job for Tonga again.
“I look forward to seeing him come down and meet all the players. He’ll put a lot of pressure on the team.”
Fittler has defended his decision to select Bronco Matt Lodge following the controversial forward’s New York rampage in 2015.
The Blues coach said Lodge deserves an opportunity and wants to learn more about his character.
“I never knew Matt in October 2015, I’ve never met Matt since,” Fittler said.
“I don’t know much about him.
“What he did for Brisbane this year he did under a lot of pressure and a lot of scrutiny. I thought he did a pretty good job.
“No one can change what happened in the past, but once again, I just want to get him involved and get to know the bloke.”
Fittler also explained that former Blues halfback Mitchell Pearce has been thrown a lifeline as a reinforcement for Penrith Panthers duo Nathan Cleary and James Maloney.
“The big thing was Nathan had an operation in the off-season, so did James Maloney,” Fittler said.
“Injuries play a big part, so you obviously need people there just in case.
“Mitchell had a fantastic season (this) year, played with injury, but he’s someone who’s been there before. His record hasn’t shown to be fantastic, but I know he’s very capable.”