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'I don’t think there were too many changes': Fittler denies taking axe to Origin squad despite seven new faces

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4th July, 2023
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Brad Fittler has defended his raft of changes ahead of the third game of State of Origin, telling media that he didn’t think that he had done too much to rejig his squad despite seven alterations from Game 2.

The Blues axed Jarome Luai, Junior Paulo, Tyson Frizell, Hudson Young and Stefano Utoikamanu, while losing Tom Trbojevic and Payne Haas to injury.

In their stead come debutants Keaon Koloamatangi and Bradman Best, along with returning names Jake Trbojevic, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Clint Gutherson, Cody Walker and Jacob Saifiti. Both reserves, Spencer Leniu and Scott Drinkwater, would also be debutants if elevated.

Despite the wholesale surgery, Fittler denied that he had made sweeping changes.

“Apart from injuries, there’s four changes,’ he said.

“Junior and Tyson have had long careers in Origin, so we chose some other players over them, and then the five eighth was a big call and Keaon moving in as well. That had a lot to do with Liam Martin’s form. I don’t think there were too many changes at all.”

The coach failed to mention Luai’s name once, but highlighted what he thought had been the problem in his defence of Walker’s selection.

“We haven’t scored tries,” said the coach. “The execution hasn’t been fantastic and if you look at the way Cody’s been playing, he’s been thought about the whole time. We just need to score more tries.

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“He was a strong consideration for Game 1. He’s been in great form and has been in great form for years. It’s a great opportunity for him, it’ll be a big crowd and we need to get points.”

The selection of Best was seen as coming from leftfield, but Fittler insisted that he had been expecting the Newcastle centre to play at this level since he impressing the under-16s contest.

“He’s been thought about,” he said. “I’ve been coaching him since he was 16 and he’s been a star coming through. Whether it’s injury or a bit of form, and I don’t think the Knights have had the greatest success over the last half dozen years or so, I’ve always wanted to see how he goes at the next level. 

“He’s someone I always thought would end up as an Origin player. As it happens, we’ve had a few centres go down and he gets his opportunity.”

Jake Trbojevic looks to pass the ball during game two of the State of Origin series between New South Wales Blues and Queensland Maroons at Optus Stadium, on June 26, 2022, in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Jake Trbojevic. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

The Blues had delayed their team announcement on Monday to give Haas maximum opportunity to play, but scans revealed that the prop would miss the next few weeks to rehab both ankle and foot problems.

“I spoke to Kevin Walters and we went through the process,” said Fittler. “I spoke to Payne, he’s had an ankle injury that he’s been carrying for a while and his foot he had an injury at the weekend. He won’t be playing for a couple of weeks for the Broncos. 

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“It allows Reagan an opportunity, Spencer comes onto the extended bench and Jacob comes back into the team. It’s a big loss, he was our player’s player in the second game so that tells you the impact he had with our team.”

Fittler refused to give reasonings for his interchange selections, and only the slightest backgrounding on why he has swapped Isaah Yeo and Cameron Murray around -“we’re just changing it up” was as far as it went – but did back new bench utility Gutherson to enliven the camp.

“Having him here makes me feel good,” said Freddie. “He’s been the best player in the comp in the last month and when he hasn’t been the best player, he’s always been trying to be the best player. Right at the moment, we need people in the team who are just wholehearted.

“Anything that’s put in front of Gutho, he just does his best. He covers a lot of positions also – we’ve had injuries in the backline the whole way through and he’ll become valuable on the night I’m sure.”

As for himself, the coach admitted that this was untested waters for him going into the third game as a dead rubber, but that there was still plenty of want in the gorup to win and stop a first Origin sweep since 2010.

“It’s new,” said Fittler. “It’s the first time I’ve been in this position. We’re preparing to win a game. There’s some blokes playing their first game for NSW so that’s exciting, and there’s blokes coming back who could still have long Origin careers ahead of them. There’s plenty of motivation.

“Our actions will tell you how the week was. We pick players that would encourage us that we’re going to win the game. Experienced players and young players. There’s no thought of anything else other than winning the game.”

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