Brad Fittler continued with his theme of bold selection gambles when he announced his Game Three squad on Monday.
The series winning coach has built his Blues tenure on trust and loyalty, and that’s exactly what has him staring down the barrel of another historic Origin series triumph next Wednesday night.
His decision to initially leave out David Klemmer, a man dubbed as the game’s best front rower, and the keystone to the Blues’ go-forward for the past five series’, was as bold as they come.
Fittler insisted he remain loyal to the young side that claimed the historical 38-6 drubbing in Perth, and in consideration of the dramatic scoreline and the way that young Blues side went about leveling the series, it was very hard to argue with him.
New South Wales ran circles around Queensland at Optus Stadium. Their game plan was apparent right from the kick off, as they shifted the ball early in the set and stretched the Maroons on the edges. The speed at which the forwards then ran and played the ball had the Maroons in a panic.
It was a masterclass. Kevin Walters could see it from the kick off – his men were simply never in the game – and when the half time siren blew, they appeared dumbstruck. It was unlike any Origin game we have witnessed in the modern era.
Whilst the blueprint for Fittler’s heroic game plan in Perth was built on speed in the ruck and on the edges, it won’t necessarily work this time around. The Blues need something more for the decider.
And whilst Fittler didn’t elect to play the cards himself, the imminent arrival of Klemmer and Knights teammate Mitchell Pearce will prove to be a blessing for the Blues’ coach.
With Klemmer and Pearce’s inclusion, Fittler adds a further 31 games of Origin experience to his team. Not discounting what Nathan Cleary and Tariq Sims have achieved in their brief Origin careers, but in an Origin decider, experience is everything.
On top of experience, the Blues have found greater balance having added Klemmer to the frame.
Speed was the cornerstone of the Blues’ victory, and the pace that the game in Perth was played at suited their game plan perfectly. But if the Maroons manage to start strong at ANZ Stadium, and manipulate the game into a typical arm wrestle, the Blues will desperately need grunt in the middle.
Klemmer is the perfect answer, and whether he starts from the bench or the kick off, will give the Blues ample size and go-forward in the middle to draw bodies in the tackle.
Daniel Saifiti had an impressive debut, and played to Fittler’s speed game perfectly, but in Game Three he’ll undoubtedly find things harder. Having his fellow club front rower in Klemmer by his side will provide vital calmness and confidence to his game.
Mitchell Pearce is bound for arguably the most straightforward Origin game of his career. Not because Queensland aren’t what they used to be, but simply because Pearce has never played in a New South Wales side with so much stability.
In the past, Pearce has been charged with coming up with the big plays – trying to outplay Johnathan Thurston, Darren Lockyer and Cooper Cronk to deliver New South Wales an against-the-odds victory. He became the scapegoat, the victim of the Blues’ woes and an easy target for the press and fans.
But never before has Pearce had the opportunity to play in a world class spine like the one New South Wales currently possess. And that’s why the 18-capped Origin veteran just needs to play the percentage game.
The time afforded to him playing outside of Damien Cook, with James Tedesco trailing through the middle, and Josh Addo Carr sitting on the flank. Players like Jake Trbojevic, Cameron Murray and Wade Graham who take further pressure off the ball players by drawing the defence and consequently creating space. It all makes Pearce’s task far simpler then has been in the past.
Queensland will be a totally different side when they travel to ANZ Stadium next week. You never see the Maroons get beaten like they did in Perth twice.
And despite their own injury issues, the side is without doubt stronger with Cameron Munster playing at fullback, where he will have his hands on the ball more frequently, and will be able to shift across the field where he sees fit.
New South Wales did an excellent job at nullifying Kalyn Ponga in Game Two and abolishing his running opportunities. They will need to do exactly the same to Munster by kicking early and stopping kick returns.
History always shapes the narrative of State of Origin, and if it’s anything to go by, next Wednesday night will come down to a number of key moments throughout the 80 minutes.
With Klemmer and Pearce now in the fold, the Blues possess the perfect balance between experience and attacking threat to get it right in these big moments.