Massive Blues punt shows Fittler’s true colors

NRL great PAUL GALLEN will appear on Nine’s 100% FOOTY every Monday night of the NRL season, where he will debate the rugby league’s hottest topics with Phil Gould and James Bracey. Tune in tonight at 10:45 PM (AEDT) for State of Origin II!

I was initially surprised by the number of changes on the New South Wales side in front of Origin IIespecially when you consider that this is a short preparation.

The game is on Sunday and they don’t train until Tuesday due to the time it takes to get to Perth.

My first thoughts were that it was more about just playing a little better than in the first game. Queensland was absolutely excellent, and while New South Wales was not poor, I thought there was still room for improvement.

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But if you dig a little deeper, I guess Brad Fittler has gone for the club combinations, and in particular the Penrith combinations, even more than he did in game one.

Let’s face it, Penrith is so far up front at the moment that you can hardly blame NSW for heading that way as the Panthers have three wins free at the top of the table. They’ve only lost one game all year, so it makes sense for Freddy to stick with those combinations that have worked so well.

I’m not surprised that Freddy went with me Api Koroisau as the novice whore, and again it comes down to the Penrith factor.

The way the Queenslanders could take? Damien Cook from the match at Accor Stadium was a big influence on that result.

I think the idea is for Api to start the game, tire the Maroons early on, and then Cook can get to work. One of the reasons I don’t think he had the impact he would have wanted in Origin was the fact that he played the full 80 minutes, and with Queensland controlling the ruck his game was nullified to some extent.

With Api starting, hopefully Cook can hurry up and run amok when the Queenslanders start to get tired. That may not even be in the first half, you may not see Damien until after 50 minutes.

My Wide World of Sports colleague Andrew Johns recently said that the best side of New South Wales where he played… Danny Buderus at hooker and then Craig Wing to come on as an impact player, and I expect Cook to play that Craig Wing-esque role in Perth.

In Origin matches you almost need two players to share half the roll of the dummy. I’ve known it for so long Cameron Smith only did it for Queensland, but he was a freak, a once in a lifetime player. You’re probably better off with someone on the couch who can play hooker.

The desire for the Penrith combination is probably the main reason Tariq Sims was pushed out, as it allows Liam Martin to play on the right side with Stephen Crichton in the middle.

The other attackers that were dropped, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Ryan Matterson, were victims of the way Origin I unfolded. Both players were probably outmatched by guys like Pat Carrigan and Reuben Cotter.

When you lose the opening game of the series, especially at home, people look for someone to blame. The Queensland front pack dominated the game, the pressure they put on Nathan Cleary was immense.

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One of Freddy’s complaints was the amount of wrestling Queensland got away with, but in my opinion the Maroons just outperformed New South Wales, and Campbell-Gillard and Matterson probably paid the price for that.

In the back, Kotoni Staggs is to some extent a victim of the circumstances.

When you make your debut, you just want to get an early touch and get involved in the game, and that didn’t happen for Kotoni in game one. He showed a few glimpses where he looked powerful and fast but then got injured so it was hardly a debut to remember.

Those two factors, the injury and the lack of early touch probably put him quite behind, it’s not like he didn’t do his job in Origin I. He played for the Broncos over the weekend against the Storm, but I think that is that they’ve gone for the safer option of men who are 100 percent fit.

NSW has now picked six centers for the last three games, but to an extent that has been forced on them as Jack Wighton gets COVID-19.

We now have Stephen Crichton and Matt Burton in the centres, which is a reflection of the Penrith focused team.

Burton may be with the Bulldogs this year, but last year he was the Panthers’ Dally M Center of the Year, so his combination with Jarome Luai on the inside and Brian To’o on the outside should already be well established.

Wighton is really unlucky, he was the best player for New South Wales in game one, but COVID-19 is the reality of the times we live in. He was excellent at Accor Stadium, so if you look at it from that point of view ,,He’s a big loss, but there’s nothing we can do about it.

I had Jake Trbojevic on my team for the first game, so I’m very happy to see him again for this game.

Prior to the first game, everyone was talking about the attacking abilities of the Blues’ forwards as they all had the ability to release, but if you step back and look at it, there was no one who was really known for being a tough, bruising defender. We are talking about the toughest football you will ever play, when you watch Jake, he solidifies the whole front line.

There has been a lot of talk about Victor Radley’s recording as he hasn’t played in a month. If he’d been on the field for the Roosters, he’d be the type of player who wouldn’t look out of place at all at the Origin level.

He’s not in the 17 Freddy mentioned on Monday, so to me it’s more of a case of Freddy realizing that a suitable Victor Radley is about to be selected. This is likely to be a one-shot move that will see Victor familiarize himself with the squad and preparation over the course of the week, rather than ever being a real option to play in Perth.

Radley and Joseph Suaalii are probably in the same boat, Freddy thinks beyond Perth and looks at the long-term view so that they won’t be like a deer in the headlights on their debut, but already have a feel for what Origin is like.

When they finally play, they immediately enter the camp and run into the ground. It’s one of the perks of having 22 on your team, that ability to plan for the future.

New South Wales is down 1-0, so there are no more second chances. They have to win. I’ve been in that situation before, and it definitely lifts you up. You want it so badly.

The Queenslanders will never admit it, but that element of safety can also play a role. In the back of their minds is the knowledge that they have game three in Brisbane if they need it. All it takes is a few players who are off by a few percent, and that’s the difference.

Fingers crossed that’s enough to get the Blues home on Sunday night.

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