Brad Fittler makes no apologies for the Blues appearing too Pantherised in Origin I, saying he was happy to lean heavily on the premiers’ playbook, just as Queensland built a lot of their game around the Melbourne Storm.
One of Fittler’s biggest supporters, Phil Gould, Pantherised following the 16-10 loss to the Maroons in game one of the series, and said the six Penrith players in the line-up led to the Blues’ attack being too structured.
NSW could yet opt for an entire Penrith left edge next Sunday in Origin II with Stephen Crichton the leading contender, ahead of former Panther Matt Burton, to nail down the starting left centre spot following Jack Wighton’s COVID-19 positive. However, there is a push in some sectors for Burton to replace Kotoni Staggs on the other side, particularly given he can fill in at five-eighth if necessary.
One player who will definitely not be sent a Perth SOS is Latrell Mitchell, who continues to recover from his own COVID setback and a serious hamstring injury.
Fittler said the heavy Penrith influence was inevitable, but it was also not a bad thing for his side, nor a concern in the countdown to next Sunday’s must-win clash in the wild west.
I can understand Gus’s comments, without a doubt, but I also don’t think we are the only team to try and play like Penrith, Fittler told The Sun-Herald. When you become the best, others try to play like you.
Penrith and the Roosters play a very similar style where they rely heavily on their wingers to bring the ball out of trouble, and they have guys like Isaah Yeo and Victor Radley doing a lot of ball playing in attack.
It’s easy to say ‘Pantherised’ because we have a lot of their players in our team. The alternative is you play like Melbourne, which is what Queensland did.
There has been plenty of debate about whether Ryan Matterson and Reagan Campbell-Gillard are dropped and proven big-game performers such as Jake Trbojevic and Angus Crichton are brought back into the fold.
The other hot topic is whether Api Koroisau wins the bench spot to add some punch through the middle.
Winger Josh Addo-Carr looks certain to be overlooked again, especially given the way Fittler spoke about Daniel Tupou and extended squad member Joseph Suaalii.
The reason Josh was left out in the first place was because of Daniel Tupou’s form, Fittler said. He was one of the best wingers in the game, and Toops’ form in that first game was also outstanding.
Everyone loves Foxx [Addo-Carr], everyone wants to see Foxx back, he is a loveable bloke, and if he keeps going the way he is going [for Canterbury], there’s a good chance it will be sooner than later.
Tupou and Staggs, who was solid again for Brisbane on Friday night, committed to NSW despite being picked for Tonga. Fittler said he was never going to hold it against the pair if they wanted to side with their country of heritage, especially with what happened to the tiny Pacific nation at the start of the year.
As for Suaalii, it was impossible not to pick up on Fittler’s excitement.
They’ll have problems keeping him out, Fittler said. Joseph is going really good. He’s got a lot of will power, he’s really passionate, he’s a great learner, and it will all happen for him. It’s just a matter of when.
I wouldn’t be negative towards playing him in Perth if I needed to. I brought him in not just to learn about what we’re about, but if someone went down he was going to play.
The loss of Wighton was a major blow and Fittler rated him the Blues’ best at Accor Stadium.
The Blues refused to shut the door on Mitchell, despite him not having played in more than two months – and South Sydney’s understandable public appeal to let him return via his club – but Fittler has put the red pen through the centre’s name.
Fittler only spoke to Mitchell for the first time when they crossed paths at WIN Stadium on Thursday night when the .
I spoke with Latrell on Thursday night – he seemed good, he was walking up and down the sideline, Fittler said.
We didn’t really have a deep chat about his injury. He would have needed to have played [to be picked]. Given how Souths have come out [about his injury], I didn’t speak to him about whether he would play.
And given their result [against St George Illawarra], I didn’t go into depth with the coach or training staff about him. But he won’t be considered.
Broncos centre Staggs and forward Payne Haas have the seal of approval from coach and former Queensland star Kevin Walters heading into NSW camp.
Katoni is fine and he is ready to go again so I’m sure he will get picked, like Payne [Haas], for Origin II, Walters said after on Friday night. It was his first Origin. I don’t want to wish him too much luck, to be honest, but I hope he has a pretty good game.
Walters also said winger Corey Oates was doing everything right for a Queensland call-up .
He’s put himself in the frame all season with his form, Walters said. I’m not sure what Billy’s thoughts are around the Queensland wingers but he couldn’t go wrong with what Corey is producing.
With Roy Ward
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