State of Origin coaches Brad Fittler and Billy Slater made some shock selection calls ahead of the opener series next week.
From Josh Addo-Carr’s snubbing, to the Jack Wighton vs Stephen Crichton debate and Ben Hunt’s nod at No.9 over Harry Grant, the pair joined NRL 360 to dissect all the big talking points.
Fittler opened up on what was “one of the tougher decisions” he ever made.
Meanwhile, a forthright Slater confirmed Hunt will start at nine and revealed he’s been in touch with Wayne Bennett.
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ADDO-CARR’S COSTLY CLUB SWITCH
One of the biggest shocks to come out of the Origin team selections is the snubbing of incumbent Blues winger Josh Addo-Carr.
NSW coach Brad Fittler has indicated that the decision came down to club form, while there’s a belief that Addo-Carr has paid the price of joining a struggling club.
Speaking on NRL 360, Fittler explained the selection and conceded it was “one of the tougher decisions” he ever made.
“Daniel Tupou had played so well and just at the moment what’s happening with Josh and his footy at the Dogs I just felt it was better for the team that we brought someone in that’s in a team that’s playing really well and a player that is in form, ”he said.
“Not only has he been a huge part of what we do on the field, but he’s been a big part of what we do off it. He brings heaps of energy so that was one of the tougher decisions I’ve ever made. ”
“We just talked about he should be on this stage and to go away and to play his way back into the team. He agreed, ”Fittler added when asked about the phone call to Addo-Carr.
News Corp. journalist Paul Kent brought up the theory that Addo-Carr was overlooked for Tupou because Fittler wanted tall wingers to take on Queensland’s Xavier Coates and Selwyn Cobbo. But he also raised the question about why, in that case, Brian To’o kept his spot.
“It surprised everybody … the think that didn’t quite make sense to me is we heard why Addo-Carr might have missed out is because they feared the aerial assault of the tall Queensland wingers,” Kent said.
“Well, on the other wing NSW have got one of the shortest players in the game in Brian To’o.
“We know what he brings, getting yardage early in the sets of six but if that’s the reason for Addo-Carr not to be there, who has got blistering pace, who is a super finisher, I think it’s definitely a surprise.”
Meanwhile, Braith Anasta believes “playing at Canterbury has impacted his selection,” while Phil Rothfield said Addo-Carr is “the fact of not going to weaker clubs.”
Rothfield went on to explain how Addo-Carr’s move from premiership heavyweights, the Storm, to a struggling club in the Bulldogs has essentially cost him $ 45,000 in State of Origin match payments.
“This Josh Addo-Carr missing out is an indication of his decision to go to Canterbury and get out of a great system at the Storm,” Rothfield said.
“They’re on $ 15,000 a game so it’s cost him $ 45,000 now. But you are running the risk at weaker clubs of not playing rep football.
“Even though he has been playing in a struggling side, he hasn’t been the player in previous seasons because he’s not getting the football like he used to.”
SLATER RESPONDS TO ‘AERIAL ASSAULT’ THEORY
The theory of NSW picking their wingers based on the looming ‘aerial assault’ from Queensland was put to Maroons coach Billy Slater.
While Slater didn’t deny the ploy, he stressed that it certainly won’t be his side’s biggest focus.
“That’s just a part of the game, that’s just something everyone is trying to do – they’re trying to finish their sets in really good positions,” Sater told NRL 360.
“We won’t be going outside of our structures to try and isolate anyone but it’s just a part of the game.
“Those two guys bring those strengths in the air … but at the end of the day we need a collective performance from all our team.”
EELS DUO’S FORM ‘HARD TO RESIST’
Two other players that were considered by some to miss out on selection were Manly prop Jake Trbojevic and Roosters second rower Angus Crichton.
Both featured in last year’s series for the Blues, but Fittler told NRL 360 that it purely came down to other forwards playing better.
“From a point of view of Ryan Matterson, I thought he played his way into the team. What he’s been doing at Parramatta, he brings something different through the middle, ”Fittler told NRL 360.
“Jake did play in the last couple of games last year but I think Reagan Campbell-Gillard also, just the combination with Junior Paulo and what they’ve been doing at Parramatta.
“It’s hard to resist the fact that Parramatta have beat the best two teams in the comp and you can’t do that unless your front-rowers are doing a pretty good job so it was hard to deny those two a spot in the team. ”
FITTLER ‘COMFORTABLE’ WITH HAAS CALL
There were big question marks over whether Payne Haas’ recent contract bombshell would impact his chances to be picked for the Blues given the outside noise would be a distraction.
However, Haas has been named to start in the front row.
It comes as Fittler confirmed to NRL 360 he spoke to Haas, his manager and a Broncos representative before giving the 22-year-old the nod.
“It was very important I got a good understanding of what went on because things escalated very quickly and it seemed out of character for what was happening at Brisbane and what I know about Payne,” Fittler said.
“I just made some inquiries, I spoke to someone at Brisbane who was very helpful, I spoke to Payne and also his management.
“I was very comfortable after speaking with the three of them that there’d be no distractions. As soon as I knew that I told Payne he was in the team. ”
MORE ORIGIN NEWS
NSW CONFIRMED: Brad Fittler picks SIX uncapped players in 22-man squad
BLUES WINNERS & LOSERS: The ‘tough’ call on incumbents; Bronco’s rise
QLD CONFIRMED: $ 1.2m snub as Slater makes big No.9 call, names SIX Cowboys
MAROONS WINNERS & LOSERS: Shock Hunt move; Souths star still on the outer
WIGHTON VS CRICHTON CENTER OF ATTENTION
When NSW announced their extended squad on Sunday night it was assumed that Stephen Crichton would line up in the center and Jack Wighton might have missed the 17th.
But Fittler left a lot of people stunned when he confirmed on Monday that Wighton would in fact play in the centers and Crichton would fill the bench utility role.
Fittler explained that Crichton “was chosen for his defense” and is confident the premiership-winning center is versatile enough to cover the plenty of positions.
“He covers everything.” Fittler said of Crichton.
“We’ve spoken about if every single player goes down, we’ve got a plan for that and you’ve got to have a second and third plan in case two people in the same position go down, which happened to us in Adelaide two years ago.
“I believe he can play in a lot of positions and he’s been in incredible form. I think the best part about his game is his defense, the thing about Origin is saving tries normally wins games and he was chosen for his defense. ”
The call was a surprise to Rothfield though.
“I like Wighton as a footballer and he played strong since coming back for Canberra. But Crichton has the relationship with the Penrith halves and To’o, ”he said.
But Kent said Wighton “deserves the opportunity.”
BILLY ‘NERVOUS’ AHEAD OF COACHING DEBUT
Maroons legend Billy Slater will make his head coaching debut when Queensland run out of Accor Stadium on Wednesday June 8.
There’s a lot of unknown around his coaching style and even Slater admitted to NRL 360 that he isn’t entirely sure of what type of coach he’ll be.
“I’m excited, it’s pretty good. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, ”Slater said.
“There’s a lot that goes on and as a player you have a sole focus but as a coach you’ve got a whole heap of things to think about.
“I honestly don’t know what type of coach I’m going to be.
“One thing I’ll guarantee you, I’ll be me. I’ve invested a lot of my life into the game of rugby league and it’s probably what I know best so that gives me a lot of comfort and confidence.
“But I’m sure I’ll make mistakes, I’m sure I’m going to evolve over time.”
However he did reveal he may lean on one man that knows a lot about success in the Origin arena – Wayne Bennett.
“I actually spoke to Wayne this morning,” Slater said.
“He’s a guy that I lean on for advice or just to have a bit of a chat about things. This team has meant a lot to Wayne for a long period of time … if he comes into camp that’s great but he’s certainly had an impact on me already. “
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SLATER CONFIRMS HUNT WILL START
Billy Slater had a shock selection call of his own with Harry Grant – arguably the best hooker in the game – named on the bench and Ben Hunt to start at hooker.
Slater explained his thinking behind the decision on Monday, putting it down to Hunt’s previous performances in Origin and the fact Grant is recovering from a groin injury and the flu.
Slater was then asked on NRL 360 whether he would stick with that plan and he didn’t shy away from the question.
“I’m not here to play games. Ben Hunt will start at nine for us for a couple of reasons, ”he said.
That up front answer impressed Braith Anasta.
“I like that as a coach. A lot of coaches play games but he was like ‘I’m laying all my cards out, we’re coming into this game pretty confident and this is how it is’, “he said.
Slater’s hooking plan was put to Fittler, but he wasn’t too concerned.
“(It’s) nine days away, I’m not sure what they’ll actually do.
“Anyone in the 22nd can end up moving into the team so we’ll worry about their team an hour out of the game.
“I’m under no illusions that they’re going to be better than they were last year. He’s a very thorough block, Billy, he’ll know his opposition and he’ll know what his own team can do. “
ARROW FALLS DOWN QLD PECKING ORDER
Jai Arrow has in the past saved his best performances for the Origin arena but he will be watching the opener series from the sidelines.
Arrow missed out on the 17 but has been included in the extended squad with Slater conceded it’s just a case of genuine depth in the Maroons pack being so strong.
“Jai’s one of those guys that has probably done enough to be in the side but given the depth in the middle, there’s guys like Tom Flegler that’s not in there as well,” he said.
“But they’re really important for us and I just know that extended squad is going to be needed throughout the series.
“Jai was obviously disappointed that he wasn’t in the 17 but he was really selfless with his approach to come into camp and the attitude that he showed so far. Jai will get his opportunity in the near future for sure. ”