NSW coach Brad Fittler has revealed that Jordan McLean has been on his radar for more than five years after being asked to review him by former Blues mentor Laurie Daley, and he urged older players to never fulfill their Origin dreams. to give up.
Fittler, who chose McLean to make his Origin debut in next Wednesday’s series decider at age 30, recalled a discussion with Daley and his Blues adviser Peter Sterling about the merits of the Cowboys prop at a hotel in near Sydney airport.
A number of other forwards were under consideration and Daley sought the opinion of Fittler and another former NSW captain and coach, Wayne Pearce, as well as Sterling.
“I remember talking to some people in a room a long time ago and he was one of those young players who were about to make his debut, but he never quite got there,” Fittler said.
“Without a doubt, I don’t think his form has been great in recent years, probably because they finished near the bottom of the ladder with the North Queensland team.”
McLean was included in a 20-man NSW squad under Daley in 2017, but that was as close as putting on a Blues jersey until Fittler chose him in an expanded roster for Origin II.
When Broncos frontrunner Payne Haas succumbed to shoulder and ankle injuries, Fittler didn’t hesitate to give McLean his Origin debut.
After being a member of the Kangaroos roster for the 2017 World Cup, McLean joins a select group of players who have represented Australia before playing Origin.
The Young Cherry Pickers junior, who won a premiership with the Storm in 2017, is the fifth oldest Blues rookie after Tony Butterfield, Max Krillich, Hazem El Masri and Matt Prior.
“I know Tony Butterfield was older and I spent a lot of time with Tony, so hopefully he has as much of an impact as Tony,” Fittler said.
“I think there are a lot of messages for different players – when you turn 30 it’s never too late, when you’re young playing in a successful team is the best way to move forward.
“With what he’s done for the Cowboys, he’s kind of an unsung hero to them. Their whole club has been incredible this year, they’re not only winning games, but the spirit they’re showing – and he’s got a big been part of.”
Replacing Haas will be in high demand, however, and Fittler admitted he would need to revise his exchange rotation as the injured Bronco plays long minutes and has a high work rate.
Haas’ loss may have been a factor in Fittler’s decision to stay with Siosifa Talakai at the crossroads for Jack Wighton, who was NSW’s best player in the series who lost 16-10 at Accor Stadium.
Wighton missed the 44-12 triumph in Perth due to COVID and was expected to return to the team, but Fittler hated dropping Matt Burton from the left center role and Talakai offers the opportunity to also play as a midfielder or edge- forward to play as center if necessary.
“That was a tough one, but I think the versatility that Sifa gives us on the bench is probably why we went with Sifa instead of Jack,” Fittler said. “Obviously, if he’s our 18th player, the other 17 will play well.”
When asked if he was playing mind games and would consider a late change, Fittler said, “I don’t want to outsmart myself.”
He also said Latrell Mitchell’s decision to retire himself after his comeback from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for 12 weeks had saved him another tough decision.
“At the end of the day, when I think about it, that was probably the smartest thing to do,” Fittler said. “He was out for at least a few months and I thought he played really well. Like Payne, I’m looking forward to seeing how he does at the end of the year.”
Mitchell felt it was unfair to his Rabbitohs team-mates or Blues centers Matt Burton and Stephen Crichton if he had already played Origin after just one game in three months.
“It’s good that he was very positive about the team and those two guys in particular,” said Fittler. “You have two really young centers there, it’s a difficult position to play and we’ve probably been a bit vulnerable there.
“We considered Jack, but I think Matt offered a little more. What Jack brings is different from what Matt brings, so we went with Matt.”
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