This article was first written and published for The Roar.
Was Brad Fittler watching the same State of Origin Game 1 that I was?
After seeing the Blues squad that has been announced for Game 2 of this year’s series, my big question is, barring injury, were such big wholesale changes required?
Following the loss in Game 1, it looks like Freddie has swung the axe. Out of the starting Blues backline, only three players have retained their spots: James Tedesco, Nathan Cleary and Josh Addo-Carr.
Latrell Mitchell has been sensationally dropped. Whilst he is an exceptionally entertaining player and does have the ability to break a game open, I do applaud Freddie’s courage here.
This dropping might give Mitchell the kick up the backside he needs and given my view that Mitchell is not a player that performs at his best when his side is on the back foot, I understand this decision.
Mitchell is a player that has had four Origin games to date. In the first two he was close to best on ground. In the last two, he was close to the worst.
This may be exactly what he needs and is a very real reality check for a player that has been dubbed ‘the best player in the game’ prematurely.
Josh Morris seems an odd casualty given that I thought he was one of the Blues’ best. Blake Ferguson, must be a strategic decision given that NSW struggled to get out of their own end; but he has had some issues with handling this year and some of his performances for Parramatta have been diabolical.
For me, it would have made more sense to play Tom Trbojevic on the wing and let Morris keep his spot.
But I guess what I’m struggling with the most is that some of the changes Freddie has made simply don’t make sense are completely inconsistent with the narrative that Freddie seemed to adhere to for Game 1. He suggested he was set to stick with the players that had won the series for him last year.
For example, the dropping of Cody Walker. It was harsh for a man that has only had essentially a half of a game to prove himself at an Origin level. Why has Walker not been afforded the time that some other players have been given?
It’s fascinating to me that bar injury, the talk was that Fittler was going to select Mitchell Pearce to play halfback in Game 2. This would have required Fittler moving Cleary to five-eighth to give control of the team to Pearce.
All drastic moves for a man that has had 18 opportunities to play at an Origin level and failed. Why has Walker not been given the same opportunity?
And if Fittler is dropping people for poor or average performances why is Nathan Cleary still in the side?
In Game 1, between the 49th and the 60th minute, Cleary did not touch the ball. In the next 13 minutes he touched it four times and that was when the team was on the backfoot.
I need more from my Origin halfback.
Another player that has been retained despite a crucial error is Jack Wighton. Fittler applauded his efforts in attack and the courage to make a play which could have been a match winner (but unfortunately ended up being the opposite).
The area where Freddie really has it right for me is in the forwards. There have been a series of injuries which means that changes had to be made.
I’m really pleased to see Dale Finucane finally named and I think his addition to the bench is a positive one, given that in Game 1 this is where the Blues really struggled. The Blues lacked size on the bench and we really did need one extra prop.
My hope for this game is that given the strength of this forward pack and the impact that he has on the bench, that he uses his bench more effectively.
In Game 1, Freddie’s rotations where a mess and in my view, had players like Tyson Frizell and Jake Trbojevic come back onto the field (and Klemmer not have been forced to play 50 minutes), the result also could have been quite different.
The reality for NSW is that until Jack Wighton threw that intercept pass which was caught by Dane Gagai, NSW were well and truly in the game. Had the Blues completed that set of six, Latrell Mitchell would have come back on the field and it would have been an even contest again.
These selections seem a wild overreaction to a result which could very easily have gone the other way.
And then, what on earth does Freddie do if we lose Game 2? Do we go back to the past, choose a whole new team altogether or simply panic?
I hope for Freddie’s sake that this team wins on Sunday.