Jake Trbojevic ruled out of State of Origin I in crushing blow for NSW

Brad Fittler and the NSW Blues have been hit by a fresh headache.

Jake Trbojevic, pictured here in action for Manly and NSW.
Jake Trbojevic is out of Origin I in a crushing blow for Manly and NSW. Image: Getty

Jake Trbojevic has provided a fresh headache for NSW coach Brad Fittler after the front-rower was ruled out of contention for the opening State of Origin game on Tuesday. Trbojevic hurt his calf in Manly's 26-10 loss to the Gold Coast last Saturday, with scans confirming the 15-game Origin veteran has a grade-two tear.

It means the front-rower, who was likely to be one of the first players picked for Fittler's Blues team, will miss the next month of football and won't be available for the Origin opener. He will not be back in action for Manly until after Origin I in Adelaide on May 31.

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The news comes as a significant blow for Fittler and the Blues, who are facing somewhat of a crisis in the forwards. Trbojevic was odds-on to be picked in the front row alongside Payne Haas, but Fittler will now be searching for a new starting prop.

Parramatta's Junior Paulo shapes as the most likely candidate, however Fittler has preferred to bring him off the interchange bench in the past. Eels teammate Regan Campbell-Gillard has also been ruled out due to an ankle injury, while Daniel and Jacob Saifiti of the Knights are options as well.

Fittler is also facing some difficult decisions regarding his second-rowers and bench forwards. Isaah Yeo and Cameron Murray look likely to start if fit, but Liam Martin is sidelined by a hamstring injury and will not play this weekend.

Jake Trbojevic, pictured here alongside brother Tom and Jarome Luai in the 2021 State of Origin series.
Jake Trbojevic alongside brother Tom and Jarome Luai in the 2021 State of Origin series. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary indicated on Tuesday that his forward will be back before May 31, but his limited game time in the lead-up could prompt Fittler to reconsider Martin's position. Angus Crichton missed the first seven rounds of the season after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but has declared he will be ready to play in Origin if selected. South Sydney's Keaon Koloamatangi looked to be on the cusp of Origin selection until he suffered a knee injury, while Manly wrecking ball Haumole Olakau'atu is right in the frame for a debut.

Brad Fittler facing headaches over State of Origin team

In some good news for the Blues, Trbojevic's brother Tom has been named for Manly in Magic Round after overcoming a groin injury. Tom was shaping as an automatic selection at wing or centre for Fittler's team, until hip and groin injuries cast major clouds over his fitness.

Alex McKinnon sensationally declared that NSW can't afford to pick Trbojevic if he isn't fully fit, calling for Fittler to go with Campbell Graham or Stephen Crichton instead. Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell could form a deadly centre combo for the Blues, while Graham would be a candidate to take one of the wing positions after playing there for the Kangaroos at the World Cup last year.

Fittler will also have to decide whether to stick with incumbent five-eighth Jarome Luai or bring in the red-hot Nicho Hynes. Luai has the advantage that he plays with NSW halfback Nathan Cleary at club level - where they have won back-to-back premierships for Penrith, however the form of Hynes can't be ignored.

The Cronulla halfback won the Dally M medal in 2022 and is close to the best player in the competition right now. Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon said this week: “I don’t get to choose the team and there’s a number of really strong candidates there. But I know Nicho would handle it and he’s fearless in the way he plays. Courage can manifest itself in so many ways but he shows a lot of courage to play the way he does.”

Origin greats Cooper Cronk, Andrew Johns and Matthew Johns have all declared that they'd stick with Luai - at least for the first game. However the fact NSW lost the series last year may force Fittler to switch things up.

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