The NSW coaching staff recently dedicated an entire day to watching and analysing recent State of Origin matches, with the aim of figuring out two main things: who should be their five-eighth and how they should play. It didn’t take long for the answers to present themselves, with Latrell Mitchell proving to be a key player for the team.
Since making his debut for NSW in 2018, Mitchell has had a tenuous relationship with the team. However, when he last represented the state in 2021, he proved to be an absolute powerhouse, running over Maroons defenders with ease and attracting a considerable amount of attention from opposing defenders. This attention created a lot of time and space for his teammates and was a significant factor in their success.
Jarome Luai, who struggled in last year’s series defeat in the absence of the injured Mitchell, was one of the players who benefited immensely from Mitchell’s presence on the field. However, any plans to reunite the “Trell-Romy” combo on the field were dashed when Mitchell sustained a calf strain a few days before the first game.
Mitchell’s absence shouldn’t be underestimated, as he is one of the best fullbacks and centres in the world and was set to be a focal point of NSW’s attack. With a shallow pool of players to choose from in certain positions and several injuries impacting the team’s line-up, Mitchell’s injury is a significant blow to their chances of success.
Last year, the Maroons were successful in stifling the Blues’ attack by rushing up in defence and cutting down the time of their ball-players. This tactic would have been far less effective against Mitchell, who possesses the skills needed to break through such a defence. His replacement, Stephen Crichton, has big shoes to fill, as he will have to navigate a Maroons defence that is likely to target him relentlessly.
Fittler has gone for a few interesting selections, including dropping Damien Cook in favour of Api Koroisau, and picking Nicho Hynes as the bench option. Meanwhile, Tevita Pangai jnr’s inclusion in the team has raised eyebrows, with some questioning whether he deserves his spot.
Despite NSW’s selection decisions, the pressure will be on rookie fullback Reece Walsh, who will be the primary target for Nathan Cleary‘s kicks. While Queensland have also made some changes, the focus of the match will be on how Walsh performs and whether he can live up to expectations.
Overall, with several injuries and selection issues plaguing the team, NSW will have a tough fight on their hands, but they will be hoping to rally around each other and make the most of the players they have available.