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Fittler defends Blues squad overhaul for must-win Origin

NSW coach Brad Fittler has defended his decision to make seven changes to his Blues squad after the narrow loss in the State of Origin series opener, insisting he couldn’t afford not to “reassess”.

Ryan Matterson, Kotoni Staggs, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Tariq Sims have all been dropped from the 17 that lost 16-10 to Queensland, with Jack Wighton (COVID-19) the only forced change.

Jacob Saifiti and Tyson Frizell hare also out of the extended squad for Origin II, to be played in Perth on June 26.

But Fittler said the only option after a defeat was to change tactics, especially when the three-match series was on the line.

“When you get beaten, you need to reassess,” he said. “We have no safety net at the moment. We went into the first game thinking a certain way about how the game would go and what we could do but it didn’t happen.”

Fittler has yet to name his 17 but confirmed Matt Burton and Stephen Crichton would form a new-look centre pairing.

The duo has only one game of Origin experience between them – Crichton came off the bench in a lukewarm showing in Sydney.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 19: Matt Burton of the Bulldogs celebrates victory with fans after the round 15 NRL match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the Wests Tigers at CommBank Stadium, on June 19, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Matt Burton. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

“Jack Wighton obviously can’t play and I just thought of Matt Burton, with the way he’s playing (for the Bulldogs),” Fittler said.

“What Crichton does with Penrith, he’s a great defender.”

Jake Trbojevic will return to the 17 for similar reasons.

“Just the way the game went in Game One, I think we needed someone really defensively-minded,” Fittler said of his decision to select the Manly middle forward.

Fittler explained he had dropped Sims with one eye on the years ahead; Sims will be 33 in February and could choose to retire when his contract expires after 2023.

“He’s done a fantastic job for NSW. We really appreciate what he’s been doing but we’re looking towards the future,” Fittler said.

Fittler has repeatedly stressed the importance of versatility to the Blues’ set-up and said the inclusion of Sharks enforcer Siosifa Talakai and Roosters forward Angus Crichton would help cover all bases.

“(Talakai) started the season in the middle, played on an edge and also has played centre,” Fittler said.

“He was unlucky not to make the first game. He’s someone we’ve been watching and we’ve been very excited watching.

“(Angus Crichton) is playing really powerfully at the moment. There are different ways he can play, in the middle or on an edge, but I’m really happy with the way he’s going.”

Penrith hooker Api Koroisau looks set to start from the bench but Fittler said his selection did not mean the Blues had lost faith in incumbent number nine Damien Cook, who has been below his best in a hot-and-cold South Sydney outfit.

“That’ll be a tactical change, going in with two hookers,” Fittler said.

“Between (Cook) and (South Sydney teammate) Cam Murray, we’ve got a lot of confidence in them. They’ve been part of this group for a while now.”

Likely NSW line-up

1. James Tedesco (c)
2. Brian To’o
3. Stephen Crichton
4. Matt Burton
5. Daniel Tupou
6. Jarome Luai
7. Nathan Cleary
8. Payne Haas
9. Damien Cook
10. Jake Trbojevic
11. Cameron Murray
12. Liam Martin
13. Isaah Yeo
14. Apisai Koroisau
15. Siosifa Talakai
16. Junior Paulo
17. Angus Crichton
18. Joseph Suaalii
Reserves: Nicho Hynes, Clint Gutherson, Jordan McLean, Victor Radley


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