Billy Slater‘s horses have escaped, and Brad Fittler is desperately making drastic changes to salvage something from the State of Origin series. Fittler has announced seven changes to the New South Wales (NSW) team for game three, in an attempt to save face after their series loss in Brisbane. Despite dealing with numerous injury setbacks, Fittler is determined to manufacture a result at home.
One of the big changes is the inclusion of Cody Walker, who returns to the NSW sky blue jersey after a three-year absence. At 33 years old, there are questions about whether he is the right choice. However, his exceptional form for the Rabbitohs this season and his unfortunate quad injury before game two indicate that he could have already made an impact in the series.
Jarome Luai, who was one of NSW’s best in the first game but failed to deliver enough points, will make way for Walker. Luai’s altercation with Reece Walsh in the dying seconds of the previous match resulted in both players being sent off. Walker, known for his attacking threat, will provide a much-needed boost to the Blues’ scoring potential, along with Mitchell Moses‘ kicking game. The elevation of Cameron Murray to the starting side will also complement Walker’s skills, as they have a strong combination at club level.
Another interesting selection is Bradman Best, who has struggled to consistently perform at the NRL level in recent years. However, his outstanding performance against the Bulldogs in the last game earned him a spot in the Origin team. Best will have to quickly develop a defensive partnership with Walker and Josh Addo-Carr to counter Queensland’s attacks.
Despite Best’s inclusion, there were other deserving candidates for the position, such as Matt Burton and Kotoni Staggs. However, Fittler opted for Best due to his recent form. The decision is debatable, especially considering Best’s defensive responsibilities against Daly Cherry-Evans.
In terms of the bench, Fittler has chosen a smaller and more mobile lineup compared to Billy Slater‘s Queensland team. Damien Cook retains his spot as a hooker, while Clint Gutherson makes a comeback to provide coverage at centre and fullback. Jacob Saifiti is the only recognised prop on the bench, with Isaah Yeo capable of playing significant minutes in the middle.
The weather conditions at Accor Stadium could play a role in the game’s outcome. The slippery and dewy surface could favor a power game, unlike the dry conditions in Brisbane. The success of Fittler’s changes will rely heavily on adapting to the Sydney weather and capitalising on the players’ individual strengths.
Fittler is well aware of the importance of this final game and the potential consequences if his strategies fail. Avoiding a clean sweep is crucial for the NSW team’s reputation and Fittler’s own standing as the coach. Time will tell if his bold moves can turn the tide in favor of the Blues.