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Opinion

MICHAEL HAGAN: How Freddy's all-or-nothing selection gamble can have Api ending

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Expert
21st June, 2022
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Brad Fittler’s gone all or nothing for Origin II with plenty of team changes but I can only see that as a positive thing for the Blues’ chances of getting revenge on Queensland.

Ultimately as a coach, you are judged by results and Freddy is backing his instincts to get the job done in Perth on Sunday night after they lost game one to Queensland a couple of weeks back in Sydney.

You live and die as a coach based on what the scoreboard says and if it’s not in his favour at Optus Stadium on Sunday night then he will own that but he’s got the courage of his own convictions and I admire that about him. 

He’s not concerned about what other people think and he has shown he can make the tough calls. It’s worked for him in the past so he should stay true to that.

There’s been a lot of talk about him picking a lot of Panthers for NSW with seven current Penrith players now in the squad with Api Koroisau starting as well as one from last year with Matt Burton coming in at left centre.

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Api Koroisau. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Api Koroisau. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Those eight players have all got good relationships with each other and they know what’s required to win games – including the 2021 premiership.

Koroisau could be the key to a much better Blues performance in game two. He’s a clever player in attack but he also anchors Penrith’s ruck defence. 

He’s one of the form hookers in the NRL from a team that’s dominating the competition so I don’t see anything wrong with that approach. I think it will make them a better team.

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Having him start the game will mean the attack will be in synch from the dummy-half to whoever needs it.

Koroisau will know when and where Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai and Isaah Yeo like to get the ball and they will have more time to play with.

He doesn’t overplay his hand, that’s one of the things that strikes me about him. He rarely makes errors at the play-the-ball or goes the wrong way with his play selection – and he is a genuine threat as well.

Not that Damien Cook wasn’t great as a hooker for NSW. I think having him come off the bench will simplify his role and give them a bit of extra punch as well if he’s presented with a tired defensive line.

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SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 02: Blues coach Brad Fittler looks on during a New South Wales Blues State of Origin squad training session at Ignite HQ Centre of Excellence on June 02, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Blues coach Brad Fittler. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

There were criticisms back in the 1990s of the Brisbane Broncos having too many players in the Queensland team when Wayne Bennett was also the coach but I think the cohesion outweighs that dependance on one style, to be honest.

There was a difference between being a Bronco and a Queensland Origin player and there’s a difference between being a Panther and a NSW player. 

Bringing Jake Trbojevic back into the pack is another plus for NSW. Freddy was complimentary of Tariq Sims and the service he’s given to the state but it was time to go with a younger player. Jake’s four years younger at 28 and has 13 Origins under his belt, still playing well for Manly and more than mobile enough to handle the speed of the game on Sunday.

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NSW were not that far off in game one, they let themselves down with their composure and their execution in attack so Koroisau at hooker should help fix those problems.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 04: Murray Taulagi during a Queensland Maroons State of Origin training session at Sanctuary Cove on June 04, 2022 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Murray Taulagi. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

And the changes shouldn’t be viewed as trying to counter whatever Queensland’s doing, Freddy needs to pick the team he thinks can win. 

Queensland’s two changes were forced by unfortunate injuries to Xavier Coates and Reuben Cotter.

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I’ve been advocating for Murray Taulagi to play since before the series began so it’s great to see him get his chance on the left wing to duplicate the combination he’s built up with Val Holmes at the Cowboys which was the logical decision to make there.

And with Cotter being ruled out after doing his hammy in the warm-up the other night for North Queensland, that’s a massive blow. I know it was only his first game but his ability to get through the full 80 minutes and do a mountain of work won’t be easy to replace.

Cotter’s efforts around line speed and first contact in defence was excellent and his play the ball speed was also tremendous.

Moving big Tino Fa’asuamaleaui to lock and bringing in Lindsay Collins means Billy Slater will have to be even more strategic around his interchange rotations.

Jai Arrow is now on the bench and has never let the Maroons down previously so they haven’t lost much there.

They’re more settled with their squad but it doesn’t mean a lot if you don’t get the same level of commitment and performance in game two.

The speed of the game in the first match was a big talking point but I think the result came down to NSW not taking advantage of their early field position and making a couple of errors in good-ball sets. 

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 08: Maroons captain Daly Cherry-Evans and Maroons head coach Billy Slater celebrate victory after game one of the 2022 State of Origin series between the New South Wales Blues and the Queensland Maroons at Accor Stadium on June 08, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

They need a more of a patient approach in attack and they must nail their execution when they create their chances. They didn’t build any pressure and Freddy should be driving that into Luai, Cleary, Koroisau and James Tedesco.

Cameron Munster, Kalyn Ponga, Daly Cherry-Evans and Harry Grant came up with the big moments in Origin I. And Queensland will expect their execution to be better in game two as well.

Having Burton in the Blues team, I can see him jumping in there on the left side and putting in a few kicks to take a bit of the pressure off Cleary and Luai. That will allow Luai to get in to lead the kick-chase as well, which he’s very good at doing.

Freddy said the other day that the Blues don’t have a safety net anymore now that they’ve lost game one so they’ve got to play like that. 

They can’t afford to get it wrong again – otherwise the State of Origin shield will be heading to sunny Queensland.

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