Blues coach Brad Fittler has remained coy on the big debate over who will play five-eighth for New South Wales as the race between Jarome Luai and Nicho Hynes continues. Hynes is making an irresistible case to make his State of Origin debut with the reigning NRL Dally M winner leading his team to second on the table.
Hynes has only played five games this year, but has eighth try assists and 11 line break assists. The 26-year-old sits equal third in the Dally M tally and has already signalled his intention to Fittler to take the No.6 jersey.
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The Sharks five-eighth was selected as 18th man for the Origin series opener in 2021 and the first two games of last year but has yet to make his Origin debut. Given his ability to play as a fullback as well as in the halves, Hynes could be selected as a bench utility if not a starter.
This comes as Luai's form is questioned leading into State of Origin. Luai presents a nice option for Fittler due to his partnership with Cleary at the Panthers with the pair winning back-to-back premierships.
While at club level the Panthers have been utterly dominant, the Blues lost last year's series to the Maroons and the halves came under fire. Cleary is the game's premier halfback and is a certainty to be picked, but the debate over who will wear No.6 dominates headlines with three games to go.
And coach Fittler has remained coy on who is in the lead to wear the jersey, but addressed Hynes' form in the build-up to State of Origin. "There's still three weeks and he's got a couple of games to go. Not only has he still got to keep playing well, stay injury-free," Fittler said.
"There are couple of other players there doing a good job as well. But just watching him is enjoyable, watching what he does on the field and off the field. He's a great role model for the game."
Jarome Luai's three games to convince Brad Fittler
While Luai and Penrith's form has been indifferent to start 2023, there is no doubt the combinations remain. Cleary, Luai, Liam Martin, Isaah Yeo, Brian To'o, Stephen Crichton and Api Koroisau have all been selected in the Origin side while playing in the Panthers' two premiership seasons as Fittler looked to capitalise on the club's recent success.
The Panthers' lukewarm start to the season appears unlikely to sway Fittler dramatically from this outlook, the coach defending the side's form amid a tough run of injuries and roster changes.
"They are just going through their challenges," Fittler said. "Their club is in a pretty good position considering the injuries they've got this year and the players they lose each year."
In what appeared to be a tough blow for the Blues, Jake Trbojevic is set to miss four weeks of NRL. This was set to rule him out of Origin I.
However, Fittler refused to rule him out of his calculations after speaking to the forward. "I just spoke to Jake Trbojevic last night. Manly says four weeks, Jake says two. We'll wait and see," he said.
Fittler hasn't ruled out picking Kangaroos and Blues representative Angus Crichton from selection, despite the forward having only just returned from time away from the game. The coach also faces a dilemma only who will be the utility player in the first game with Jack Wighton taking his name out of contention.
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