This year’s State of Origin contest will be like none other before it.
Latrell Mitchell has been stunningly dropped on his 22nd birthday as part of a whopping seven changes to the NSW team for State of Origin II.
Blake Ferguson, Tom Trbojevic, James Maloney, Daniel Saifiti, Dale Finucane, Wade Graham and Tariq Sims have all been drafted in for the Perth game.
David Klemmer (wrist), Payne Haas (hamstring) and Nick Cotric (ankle) are three forced changes after copping injuries over the past fortnight.
First-gamer Cody Walker, Angus Crichton, Josh Morris and Mitchell have been overlooked in what is a vastly different looking team.
Trbojevic and Jack Wighton are in the centres, while Saifiti, the starting prop, and Finucane will make their Origin debuts.
Blues coach Brad Fittler was one of many who criticised Mitchell for a sub-par game-one showing, publicly questioning the motivation levels of the superstar after the match.
And while there was widespread speculation the Sydney Roosters’ centre was dealing with some off-field issues, Fittler insisted his decision was purely on form.
“The biggest (factor) was we had expectations up at Suncorp and he made sure he didn’t meet those expectations,” Fittler said on Sunday night.
“We really need our players to work hard for each other and, at the end of the day, Queensland wanted it more than us which is a bit of a shame.
“Latrell, he’s a bit of a consequence of that.
“His week (preparing for game one) was fantastic. It was nothing to do with anything off the field – it was purely on the field.”
Spoken of months ago as perhaps the best player in the world, Mitchell scored two tries as part of an 18-point haul in the Roosters’ big win on Sunday over Canterbury.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve had to do,” Fittler said of Mitchell’s axing.
“The great thing was he scored a couple of tries today and let’s hope he gets his smile back and his swagger and it won’t be too long before he’s playing rep footy.”
Halfback candidate Mitchell Pearce had been widely tipped for a dramatic recall but was ruled out early on Sunday due to hip and cork issues.
Haas was also unavailable after picking up a hamstring injury.
Fittler admitted Crichton was only in the team to cover for an underdone Tyson Frizell in game one, and that Morris was a victim of Trbojevic’s return from injury.
He also said Maloney had earned a recall over Walker after an upswing in form over the past few weeks for Penrith, who have won four straight.
“He’s had some pressure on him,” Fittler said.
“The last two games, he’s been great. He won the game with a field goal in the last five minutes on the weekend, and set up a try earlier in the game as well.
“I think he made sure he understands that he needed to play better at the start of the year and we had expectations of how he should’ve been playing.
“It’s come to this now. I think the pressure’s helped him and he’s come good.”
NSW TEAM FOR ORIGIN II:
James Tedesco, Blake Ferguson, Tom Trbojevic, Jack Wighton, Josh Addo-Carr, James Maloney, Nathan Cleary, Daniel Saifiti, Damien Cook, Paul Vaughan, Boyd Cordner (capt), Tyson Frizell, Jake Trbojevic. Res: Dale Finucane, Tariq Sims, Cameron Murray, Wade Graham.