NSW coach Brad ‘Freddy’ Fittler has stunned the rugby league world by making seven changes to the Blues’ State of Origin Game II squad, including dropping star Latrell Mitchell.
The centre had a shocker in Game I, but no one saw his omission coming.
Fittler has amazingly picked two fullbacks – Tom Trbojevic and Jack Wighton – in the centres, although Trbojevic has played on the wing and Wighton at five-eighth.
Josh Morris was also dropped, along with Cody Walker and Angus Crichton, with injuries to David Klemmer, Nick Cotric and Payne Haas ruling them out.
James Maloney will take Walker’s spot, while Wade Graham, Blake Ferguson and Tariq Sims have all been recalled.
Fittler has also named two debutants in Melbourne’s Dale Finucane and Newcastle’s Daniel Saifiti.
To say NSW has rolled the dice is an understatement.
All calm at the Maroons
While the pressure is on the Blues, Queensland is looking cool, calm and collected, making just two injury-forced changes to its team.
Titans prop Jarrod Wallace and Newcastle veteran Tim Glasby have been named to replace the injured Joe Ofahengaue and Jai Arrow.
Dylan Napa will also start in Perth, with Josh Papali moved to the bench.
Dragons playmaker Corey Norman and Knights winger Edrick Lee, both uncapped at Origin level, have been added to the squad alongside 18th man Melbourne forward Christian Welch, who is also yet to make his Maroons debut.
A new mid-season Titan
Gold Coast has made an unusual mid-season signing in the form of England international Kallum Watkins.
The centre, long regarded as one of the best players in Super League, will join the Titans next month.
Watkins’ pedigree is not in doubt, but the 28-year-old is not in great form and has struggled at Leeds this season as he returns from an ACL injury.
Leeds are battling relegation and have paid Watkins to get him off the salary cap.
In previous years English players have not really made their mark at Gold Coast, with Dan Sarginson, Richie Mathers and Joe Greenwood all having short stays.
It will be intriguing to see how Watkins fares in south-east Queensland.
Expansion plans give Brisbane a bump
Speculation is growing about a new club coming into the NRL, with a second team in Brisbane the favourite.
The reports this week stated that ARL Commission chairman Peter Beattie has been in talks with broadcasters about a new club coming in for 2023.
Beattie wants another team in Queensland, with Brisbane tipped to get a second side to rival the Broncos.
Consortia in Ipswich, Central Queensland, Brisbane Bombers and Redcliffe Dolphins are all keen to enter teams in the competition, but an outfit playing at Suncorp Stadium every weekend in a city of 2.3 million people is very appealing.
Ponga poaching bid raises Knights’ hackles
The NRL, and the Newcastle Knights in particular, were incensed last week when it was revealed that Wallabies coach Michael Cheika had approached Kalyn Ponga about crossing codes to rugby union.
Ponga is contracted to the Knights until the end of the 2021 season, is playing for Queensland in State of Origin and is a future Kangaroo.
Already he is quickly becoming one of the biggest stars in the NRL.
Losing him would be a big blow and Knights CEO Phil Gardner came out swinging.
“It’s not surprising that rugby union have identified Kalyn as a talent they wish to get their hands on,” Gardner said.
What does come as a surprise is that an official from their code would personally phone our talent despite the fact he has several seasons left to run on his contract.
“It is inappropriate for any contact to be made from rugby union – or anyone else for that matter – and it is extremely disappointing.”
Roberts lifts lid on Broncos exit
James Roberts has opened up about his controversial switch from Brisbane to South Sydney.
Roberts told NRL.com the environment changed at the Broncos when his mentor Wayne Bennett left to go to Souths, and that he never really trusted Bennett’s replacement Anthony Seibold.
“I felt like I was a bit less motivated because I didn’t know where I stood any more,” he said.
“You could tell by the way I was playing and the way my attitude was with footy. All I wanted to do was go home and spend time with my family. I didn’t feel right.
“In preseason it just didn’t feel the same any more. I can’t tell you exactly what it was, but there were different vibes.
“I just felt like I didn’t fit in … I got to a point at the Broncos when I was getting home and all I could think about was how unhappy I was.”