Injuries wreak havoc on Freddy’s Origin selections, but there’s a silver lining for some deserving players

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By Mary Konstantopoulos, Mary Konstantopoulos is a Roar Expert

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    Brad Fittler will be livid that the squad was leaked. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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    I’m not sure what has caused more chaos to my weekend – injury concerns in the NRL or Brad Fittler surprising all of us and deciding to announce his New South Wales Blues squad for State of Origin Game 2 at 10.30pm on Saturday night.

    The announcement took place just after Ireland had beaten the Wallabies in the rugby and France had beaten the Socceroos at the World Cup.

    State of Origin wasn’t meant to give me much material this weekend. My expectation was that, following the Blues’ win over Queensland in Game 1 by 22-12, Fittler’s squad would virtually stay the same.

    The Blues’ performance in Game 1 meant that for players like Tariq Sims, Ryan James and Euan Aitken, it was going to be very hard for them to get a look-in in the 17-man side, despite being considered quite unlucky to miss out on final selection.

    Then Friday and Saturday happened.

    Put simply, there was carnage in the NRL. By the time the game between the Brisbane Broncos and Cronulla Sharks had ended on Saturday night, no less than nine players had left the field with semi-serious to serious injuries, including Matt Scott, Solomone Kata, Sam Hoare and Blake Ferguson.

    No-one ever likes to see players injured. But at this time of the year, the focus seems to move slightly from player welfare to immediately thinking about what impact injuries will have on Origin squads.

    And Brad Fittler certainly would have had some frightening moments, especially during the game between the Sydney Roosters and Penrith Panthers on Friday night when both Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Latrell Mitchell left the field.

    At the time, Mitchell’s knock looked most serious. Fortunately, despite initial concerns over a real spinal injury, he was later cleared of neck damage after having an MRI scan during the game. He was named in the squad.

    Unfortunately, the news was not so positive for Reagan Campbell-Gillard, who suffered a displaced jaw fracture and, as a result, will miss 4-6 weeks.

    As disappointing as this was, particularly after Campbell-Gillard only made his State of Origin debut in Game 1 this year, it has now given Ryan James an opportunity to make his Origin debut – a debut that is well overdue.

    James has been on the cusp of Origin selection for several years.

    Gold Coast Titans player Ryan James

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    But this year, he has certainly been a stand out for the Titans, despite it taking Garth Brennan some time to work out how to use him appropriately. In Round 1 we saw James playing on the edge, despite him been most effective during his career in the middle because he is a strong carrier of the football.

    It came as no surprise once James returned to the middle with James Wallace and Jai Arrow that the Titans started to dominate teams up the guts.

    His performance last weekend against the South Sydney Rabbitohs, when he scored two tries, made 46 tackles and 163 metres from 20 runs, was particularly noteworthy. His efforts this weekend, up against one of his Origin teammates, David Klemmer, were also impressive. In the 20th minute, he pushed through a Klemmer tackle to score near the posts and also had another big week of work with 51 tackles, 126 metres and 11 hit ups.

    His Origin spot is well deserved and I have no doubt that he will impress on Sunday, particularly after waiting so long for an opportunity.

    Fittler has also named Luke Keary in his squad. This seems precautionary, with ‘Freddy’ suggesting he was worried about a hobbling James Maloney after Penrith’s win over the Roosters.

    Roosters player Luke Keary

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Keary’s form, just like the Roosters, seems to be improving, but losing Maloney would be a huge blow for the Blues, particularly given Nathan Cleary is the halfback. Maloney and Cleary have been playing together all year and Maloney has proven to be a safe and reliable anchor for his young halves partner.

    I hope he is fit for Game 2, because even though the 11 debutants performed well in Game 2, throwing a 12th (13th if you include James) debutant in the mix, especially in the halves, could prove dangerous.

    Fittler wasn’t the only Origin coach with injury concerns. Kevin Walters has worries of his own and there may be some changes in the squad that he is expected to announce later today.

    Some wondered whether Matt Scott might make a return for Game 2. That seems exceptionally unlikely after a potential neck/back injury in the Cowboys loss to the New Zealand Warriors.

    Michael Morgan was also injured in this game and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a bicep injury.

    This is a blessing in disguise for Walters.

    It’s fair to say that Morgan was only included in the squad for Game 1 based on previous form. This year he has been battling injury and he looks tired, slow and a mere shadow of the player that single-handedly pushed the Cowboys to the grand final last year.

    If there are still concerns about Billy Slater heading into Game 2, Walters simply has to pick Kalyn Ponga. At this stage, it is being reported that Slater will be named and given until Wednesday to prove his fitness.

    There’s been some talk about Ponga being too young, but youth did not seem to be an issue for the 11 debutants that took the field for the Blues at the MCG.

    Kalyn Ponga

    Kalyn Ponga of the Knights (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

    That Game 1 scoreline flattered New South Wales and with a bit of extra attacking punch, Queensland have the team to be able to win Game 2. Ponga could absolutely provide that attacking punch.

    I’m looking forward to seeing who Walters picks. We could even see a couple more debutants given that there are also injury clouds over Ben Hunt, Josh McGuire and Dane Gagai.

    Given the amount of talent at Queensland’s disposal, I’m not feeling as confident heading into Sydney, but perhaps that it is only due to the scars of the past.

    Bring on Game 2.

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    The Crowd Says (12)

    • Roar Guru

      June 18th 2018 @ 7:15am
      Dutski said | June 18th 2018 @ 7:15am | ! Report

      Mary what are your thoughts on Matt Prior also getting a nod for the squad? I thought he was immense for the Sharks in their premiership but since then has been solid if unspectacular. He seems to be labelled with the dreaded “he’d do a job and not let anyone down” which in Queensland would get you multiple Origins a la Glasby, but in nsw is the kiss of death (see Jarrod Croker, Alan Tongue, and dare I say it… Josh Jackson?)

      • June 18th 2018 @ 8:18am
        JimboJones said | June 18th 2018 @ 8:18am | ! Report

        Prior is a bit of a weird one , when you consider the original outlook was all about blooding young players , its hard to see Prior being there next year even if he was to “get the job done”.

    • June 18th 2018 @ 7:48am
      Paul said | June 18th 2018 @ 7:48am | ! Report

      I was reading through your article Mary, when out of nowhere you dropped a klanger the “game 1 scoreline flattered NSW”. How so? 22 – 12 seemed about right to me. Qld had lots of chances but NSW held firm. It was not a blowout to either side and was probably a fair result at the end of the game.

    • Roar Guru

      June 18th 2018 @ 8:00am
      Michael Keeffe said | June 18th 2018 @ 8:00am | ! Report

      Hi Mary, Matt Scott didn’t get injured in the game against the Warriors as you suggested. He didn’t play because he was already injured. Either way he won’t play Origin 2 but just want to correctly report he didn’t play against the Warriors.

    • Roar Rookie

      June 18th 2018 @ 8:26am
      Ray Paks said | June 18th 2018 @ 8:26am | ! Report

      yeah qld were the ones that were ‘flattered’ by the scoreline in game 1…

    • June 18th 2018 @ 12:52pm
      Albo said | June 18th 2018 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

      The weekend looked to be all silver lining for NSW.
      They lost RCG but he is easily replaced by either James or Sims who would be more damaging anyway.
      Maloney had a shocker against the Chooks but will likely hold his spot , though Keary could cover well.
      Meanwhile QLD have lost Morgan & Scott, still have fitness queries around Slater, Napa, and possibly Hunt ?
      Looks all systems go for NSW next weekend.

      • June 18th 2018 @ 2:00pm
        Paul said | June 18th 2018 @ 2:00pm | ! Report

        I was trying to work out where “injuries wreaked havoc” on NSW? Injuries have done a lot more wreaking on Qld I reckon.

        • June 18th 2018 @ 6:55pm
          John Paul said | June 18th 2018 @ 6:55pm | ! Report

          Morgan is a huge loss for QLD. His effort in game 1 was exceptional. I would argue that the ledger has swung a little further towards the Blues after the spate of injuries from the weekend.

    • June 18th 2018 @ 5:12pm
      Carlos said | June 18th 2018 @ 5:12pm | ! Report

      I admire James’s work he and Vaughan are similar player imo and is a great replacement for RCG.
      The only worry I have and NSW do this all the time is that we have too many back rowers.
      While Crichton is a great player and I have no problem with him being in the team I just wonder what use he really is on the bench. Between Cordner, Frizzel, De Belin, Jurbo and Peachy we don’t really need another mobile forward.
      I’d rather see more rotation in the middle. With a psychically really big middle forward like Shannon Boyd to be there and br00tal for the last 20 mins of the first half and the last 10 or so minutes of the second half.

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