Home Blues NSW Blues changes, Brad Fittler, Latrell Mitchell, Jack Wighton, Jarome Luai, Payne Haas

NSW Blues changes, Brad Fittler, Latrell Mitchell, Jack Wighton, Jarome Luai, Payne Haas

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Brad Fittler has shown he has the steel and courage to make massive changes to a losing team, but can he adopt the same philosophy to change a winning team and break a 17-year drought?

NSW have not won a decisive game at Suncorp Stadium since Andrew Johns inspired the Blues to a series victory in 2005.

Fittler proved his critics wrong by engineering a resounding 44-12 win in Origin II following seven changes to the team that lost to the Maroons 16-10 in the series opener.

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But the Blues found themselves in a decisive game at Suncorp just two years ago following a thrashing from Queensland in Game 2 and were beaten 20-14 by a Maroons side who have been dubbed the worst of the Origin story on paper.

A decider in Brisbane presents the Blues with unique challenges and they can’t just switch with the same team hoping for the same beating they produced in Perth.

In 2020, Fittler kept the exact same side that beat Queensland 34-10 in Game 2, but they ultimately fell at the final hurdle in front of a parochial Queensland crowd.

Fittler knows that a decision maker in enemy territory is a different beast and he will need the best team possible to get the job done on Queensland soil.

Latrell Mitchell looms as the biggest potential inclusion should he successfully return for South Sydney before Game 3, but given his lack of fitness he is a risk.

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Latrell Mitchell is a big game player.Source: Getty Images

The 25-year-old has played seven origins under Fittler and he’s the type of player Queensland doesn’t like to play against due to his physicality and aggression.

The Souths star was arguably the best player in the series last year and despite the lack of playing time this year, his class would be welcome in the pressure cooker of a Suncorp decision-maker.

Mitchell gives the Blues the competitive fire they will need to win on foreign soil, but who he replaces is less clear.

It’s almost impossible to let Matt Burton down after his dream Perth debut, which leaves Stephen Crichton as the man most likely to make way for Mitchell.

Complicating matters further is the expected return of Blues regular and Fittler favorite Jack Wighton from Covid.

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Jack Wighton was the best of the Blues in Game 1.Source: Getty Images

Wighton was the Blues’ best player in Origin I, albeit on a losing side and surely deserves a place somewhere in Fittler’s 17 provided he has no lasting effects from his Covid fight.

There’s an old saying, “you need an old dog for a rough road” and they don’t come much tougher than a decision-maker at Suncorp Stadium, so Fittler may need his trusted and experienced duo of Wighton and Mitchell for the upcoming battle.

Wighton could potentially return to his utility role on the bench, with Siosifa Talakai to make way, but that would leave the Blues short of big men on the pine.

The Koroisau and Cook double hooker combination worked in Game 2, but is that the best way to go for Game 3?

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Jarome Luai was guilty of some bad mistakes and poor discipline in game two.Source: Getty Images

Koroisau was strong in the first half, without being spectacular, but it allowed Cook to dominate as Queensland were tired in the second half.

Bringing both Cook and Wighton to the bench would be a bold move by Fittler in a decider where big men are historically worth their weight in gold, especially as the Blues were much better in the middle third of the pitch in the second match.

Now on to the drastic reshuffling of the selection which could see Wighton and Mitchell brought into the centres, with Burton moved to five-eights and Jarome Luai dropped for the decider.

On the surface, that seems like an unnecessary risk for a team that just put 40 points on the Maroons. Severing the partnership between Cleary and Luai on the one hand seems like folly considering their success for club and state over the past two seasons.

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Matt Burton is unbeatable after playing on his debut.Source: Getty Images

However, except for a try and a line break in Perth, Luai was mediocre in Game 2 and was guilty of a few silly mistakes and unnecessary penalties.

An incident saw Luai awarded a penalty for rubbing a Queensland player’s face on the ground and it led directly to Cameron Munster’s first-half try in the following set.

Such poor discipline could prove costly if Luai is a repeat offender in Brisbane and it could cost the Blues the game and the series.

Dropping Luai, as a hard call would allow Fittler to utilize Burton’s impressive kicking game even more at five-eights and allow the experience and physicality of a Mitchell and Wighton center partnership to getting in shape for the do or die series finale.

Payne Haas has ankle and shoulder injuries.Source: Supplied

This would allow Fittler to keep the balance on his side and especially on his bench with Siosifa Talakai holding his place, despite limited opportunities on his debut.

Further muddying the waters for the Blues selection is the potential unavailability of star prop Payne Haas due to an ankle injury suffered in Game 2.

Haas is set to carry his injury in the Broncos’ clash with the Cowboys, but after also suffering two shoulder injuries this year, there are fears the iron man could break down at some point or at least not be as effective as it would be. 100% fitness.

Haas is arguably the Blues’ most important striker and with Jake Trbojevic as a prop, he leaves the Blues short of specialist rowers.

This could lead to a potential recall for Reagan Campbell-Gillard or Daniel Saifiti, who is expected to return in Round 16.

Regardless of his final squad composition, Fittler must learn from the mistakes and experience of 2020.

Changing a winning team is a risk, but Fittler has shown he is a horse trainer for the courts, picking the top 17 to do the job for each game.

That may mean making changes to its winning Perth side to ensure the best combination of 17 players can do what no NSW team has done in a decider at Suncorp Stadium since 2005 and bring the Shield home.