NSW coach Brad Fittler has made five changes to the Blues side for Origin II, with the aim of minimising disruption to their preparation. Instead of rebuilding the spine around Redfern combinations, Fittler has opted for Mitchell Moses and Damien Cook to replace the injured Nathan Cleary and Api Koroisau. Latrell Mitchell returns at left centre after being a late withdrawal from Origin I, meaning there are only two unforced changes in the Blues squad. Reece Robson and Stefano Utoikamanu have been called up to replace Nicho Hynes and Tevita Pangai Junior respectively.
Fittler has challenged five-eighth Jarome Luai to step up in the absence of halves partner Nathan Cleary. With just eight days to ready the Blues for a tilt at Origin history, Luai’s Penrith performance all but confirmed his spot in the squad. He now has the chance to dispel any perception that he was selected solely because of his combination with Cleary, by winning the five-eighth duel with Queensland’s Cameron Munster.
Without Cleary, Luai will be expected to have a greater input into the off-field tactical sessions in the lead-up to next Wednesday’s must-win Origin, along with Mitchell Moses. Moses, Eels teammate Junior Paulo, and Bulldogs winger Josh Addo-Carr played on Monday, and Mitchell, his Rabbitohs captain Cameron Murray (groin), and Panthers second-rower Liam Martin (HIA) are on restricted training, meaning the Blues will have limited preparation time.
Despite this, Moses is confident that he and Luai can quickly come together as a halves pairing and help the Blues become the first team to win Origin II in Brisbane and the decider after losing the series opener. Fittler admits that Nicho Hynes has been unlucky to lose his spot and assures the Sharks player that he will get another opportunity.
Souths five-eighth Cody Walker received a phone call from Fittler as an indication that he was under consideration before missing last Saturday’s match against the Dragons due to a quad injury. Fittler has been watching Walker closely throughout the year, and he remains in the radar for future matches.
Fittler admitted that Hynes had been in a three-way battle with Moses and Brisbane’s Adam Reynolds for the No.7 jersey, but he failed to enhance his selection prospects in Cronulla’s 54-10 loss to Melbourne on Sunday.
“I have been watching Cody all year, and he has been outstanding,” Fittler said. “I spoke to Cody and obviously he is injured. He did some running, and we have been speaking to their physios and their medical department, so he is always on the radar.”
Fittler has also decided to go with two hookers rather than a utility on the bench and tells Hynes he will get another opportunity. “There’s a lot around Nicho at the moment. The Sharks are where they are at the moment. They’re great some weeks and not great other weeks. There’s a lot of media attention on Nicho, he had a lot of pressure going down to Melbourne, and it just didn’t work out so it’s best, especially this week and next week, to give him some time to get back to Cronulla and get it right.”