The selection headaches Fittler must solve before game one for Blues

Save articles for later

Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.

With the countdown on to the first State of Origin team, and selection debates rumbling, Brad Fittler turns to one of his favourite sayings: “Don’t pick your team too early”. It’s done in pencil, not pen.

In 2023, more than ever, his ethos rings true.

Fittler’s Blues seem to have issues afoot before the squad for the series opener in Adelaide is named next Sunday night. The red pen has already gone through a few names, and it’s hovering over several others racing to make it back from injury, or just lacking match fitness.

And there’s the fact Sydney won’t host a match until game three, meaning they have to win in South Australia or Queensland to wrest back Origin supremacy.

NSW will start favourites for game one. They always do.

Yet here are the big questions Fittler must solve as he tries to prevent back-to-back series losses.

Sharks star Nicho Hynes, NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler and Panthers star Jarome Luai.

Luai or Hynes?

It wouldn’t be an Origin build-up without some debate over the NSW halves, and with Nathan Cleary a certainty (barring injury) for the No.7 jumper, most of the talk has centred on his partner at No.6.

Jarome Luai has won two NRL competitions with Cleary, an Origin series in 2021 and might still have his nose in front for the five-eighth role. But Nicho Hynes is making an almost irresistible case for selection.

The Dally M Medal winner has barely missed a beat after his return from a calf injury, sparking Cronulla’s attack and edging closer to a NSW debut.

But never underestimate how much emphasis Fittler places on what side of the field his edge forwards, halves and centres play. In Luai, he has a natural left-sided attacking weapon who also kicks off the same foot. Like he does at Penrith, Cleary locks down the right.

Hynes has made his home at the Sharks on the right, the same side as Cleary, meaning any elevation to the starting side would lead to him swapping sides for the Origin opener. Maybe his best bet is the bench.

Asked this month about Hynes’ versatility, Fittler said: “You try to plan [for every scenario], but sometimes it’s tricker than others. I think he might have played a bit of hooker and he’d put his hand up to do anything. I’m enjoying watching him play.”

How many injured players is too many?

The great Origin coaches will argue if a player is underdone for Origin, they’re in over their head. Well, Fittler has a whole cast of them to juggle.

Walk-up starters Jake Trbojevic (calf) and Liam Martin (hamstring) have missed game time in recent weeks, and comeback contender Josh Addo-Carr (syndesmosis) was also scratched from a potential return match on Friday night. Keaon Koloamatangi (ankle) was in the mix to be the bench forward who could swing between an edge and in the middle, but is also out.

So, how much faith does Fittler place in experienced players sorely lacking match fitness?

Is Tom Trbojevic right to go?

It might just take a simple phone call, but Fittler needs to work out what to do with Trbojevic. At his best, there is arguably no better player in the NRL. But the Trbojevic of 2023 has looked tortured while trying to trust his body and its new running mechanism.

There’s no doubt he’s trying harder than ever, but playing behind a beaten Manly pack the last couple of weeks, and potentially a lack of confidence, has the 2021 Dally M Medal winner struggling to find his best.

The problem for Trbojevic may not be his own battle to hit top gear, but Campbell Graham. The Rabbitohs centre has been in scintillating touch, plays on the right side to accommodate Latrell Mitchell on the left, and is familiar with a number of potential NSW teammates at South Sydney.

Are two No.9s better than one?

Maybe the biggest question Fittler faces: should he carry two hookers a la Queensland with Ben Hunt and Harry Grant, or rely on an 80-minute Trojan in the middle?

NSW went to the one-two punch theory for game two last year with Damien Cook and Api Koroisau – and it worked wonderfully in Perth. But the Maroons regrouped and nullified the NSW threat around the middle for the series decider in Brisbane.

Cook has been in blazing form to start the year behind an effective Rabbitohs pack, and Koroisau has come to the party in recent weeks for the rejuvenated Wests Tigers.

There will be an argument the modern game is too fast and demanding to make one hooker grind out 80 minutes. If Fittler takes two, there won’t be a spot for a player like Hynes as a utility.

Stream the NRL Premiership 2023 live and free on 9Now.

Sports news, results and expert commentary. Sign up for our Sport newsletter.

Most Viewed in Sport

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article