Brad Fittler's staggering claim about Jake Trbojevic availability for Origin I

Manly had previously announced that Jake Trbojevic had been ruled out of State of Origin I.

Brad Fittler and Jake Trbojevic, pictured here in State of Origin.
Brad Fittler isn't ruling Jake Trbojevic out of State of Origin just yet. Image: Getty

Brad Fittler has revealed he's not ruling Jake Trbojevic out of contention for State of Origin I just yet, despite Manly appearing to do so this week. The Sea Eagles announced on Tuesday that Trbojevic will be sidelined for four weeks with a calf injury, meaning he won't be available for Fittler's NSW side in the series opener on May 31.

But Fittler revealed on Wednesday that he's not prepared to take Trbojevic out of his calculations just yet, saying the Manly prop believes he might only miss two games. "I just spoke to Jake Trbojevic last night," Fittler said. "Manly says four weeks, Jake says two. We'll wait and see."

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Trbojevic injured his calf in Manly's 26-10 loss to the Gold Coast last Saturday, with scans revealing the 15-game Origin veteran has a grade-two tear. Manly said it means the front-rower won't be back in action until after Origin I. But if there's one player who would do anything to represent the Blues, it's Trbojevic.

If the Manly hero does miss the opening game of the series, it would present Fittler with a fresh headache amid somewhat of a crisis around his forward pack. Trbojevic and Regan Campbell-Gillard were the starting front-rowers for Mal Meninga's Kangaroos side in the World Cup final last year. But Campbell-Gillard is unavailable due to an ankle injury.

Meninga's starting second-rowers were Angus Crichton and Liam Martin, but Crichton has only played one game this year after taking a mental health break, while Martin has been sidelined for a month with a hamstring problem. Crichton appears a likely inclusion if he can get some games under his belt in the lead-up to Origin I, while Penrith coach Ivan Cleary indicated on Tuesday that Martin will be back before May 31. Payne Haas and Junior Paulo, who played in last year's series, are available at this stage in a boost for Fittler and the Blues.

Jake Trbojevic, Tom Trbojevic and Jarome Luai look, pictured here before a State of Origin game in 2021.
Jake Trbojevic, Tom Trbojevic and Jarome Luai look on before a State of Origin game in 2021. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Brad Fittler addresses Nicho Hynes and Jarome Luai debate

Meanwhile, Fittler has spoken out amid debate over who he should pick as his five-eighth. Jarome Luai is the incumbent and has the advantage of playing with NSW halfback Nathan Cleary at club level - where they have won back-to-back premierships with Penrith.

But the fact NSW lost the series in 2022 has intensified calls for Fittler to pick Cronulla half Nicho Hynes instead. Hynes won the Dally M medal after an outstanding season in 2022, and has continued his stellar form in 2023 despite missing the first month with a calf injury.

"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 of Hynes. "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."

Fittler also hinted at which way he might be leaning when he said Luai was being 'devalued' in the debate. The NSW coach also defended the five-eighth's form at club level, pointing to the fact a number of key players left the Panthers at then end of last season.

"They are just going through their challenges," Fittler said about Penrith. "Their club is in a pretty good position considering the injuries they've got this year and the players they lose each year."

Fittler also lauded the utility value of Canterbury half Matt Burton, who played in the centres in last year's series. "Matty has the advantage of being able to play other positions," Fittler said. "You need to have some versatility among your team. It's pretty tricky because you've got three games but you need to nail each one."

with AAP

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