Brisbane's forgotten State of Origin hopeful Kotoni Staggs sent a timely reminder to NSW Origin selectors after a "masterclass" display against NRL top-four rivals Cronulla on Saturday night. The Broncos came through their sternest test of the Origin period with a 20-12 win at Shark Park that cements their NRL premiership credentials.
Brisbane had a number of players backing up from Wednesday night's Origin duty with Pat Carrigan, Payne Haas, Reece Walsh and Thomas Flegler all taking their places in the Broncos side. However, it was a former NSW Origin star who shone the brightest during a 20-12 victory over the Sharks that should have Blues coach Brad Fittler sitting up and taking notice.
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Staggs - who played in Game I of last year's Origin series before suffering a shoulder injury and ultimately missing the remainder of the series - staked his claim for a Blues recall with a blistering first half against the high-flying Sharks. Staggs first crashed over for the opening try of the match while the Sharks were scrambling back in the wake of Jordan Riki's 80-metre run down field.
Then in the shadows of halftime, Staggs put in a brilliant chip-kick that sent Jesse Arthars over and extended the Broncos' lead to eight points. The centre was a weapon bringing the ball out of Brisbane's half and was a handful for Sharks opposite Siosifa Talakai all game.
Cronulla and NSW legend Michael Ennis said on the Fox League coverage that he thought Staggs was looking in more devastating form than he was last year when he debuted for the Blues. "Boy, he's looked impressive tonight, Staggs," Ennis said. "He is playing better now than he was when he was selected for Origin. He is in great form, Kotoni Staggs."
The Broncos centre said his match-up with Sharks wrecking ball Talakai had inspired his best performance of the season. "I knew I had to come out and start fast, especially up against Talakai," Staggs told Fox League. "I love coming up against guys like that and it makes my game improve, as well."
With NSW centre Tom Trbojevic's concussion set to sideline him between now and Game II, Staggs has surely given Fittler plenty of food for thought. The NRL has confirmed that Manly are challenging the category one ruling on Trbojevic, however, meaning he could play the Sea Eagles' next match against the Dolphins if the club's appeal is successful.
The Blues are likely to welcome back Latrell Mitchell into the centres for Game II, with Stephen Crichton and Campbell Graham also in the mix. However, many fans feel that Staggs has rocketed into Origin contention after his strong performance on Saturday night and excellent form throughout the season.
Kotoni Staggs is having an absolute masterclass, what a player man.
— 🌟 (@JBroncosEra) June 3, 2023
"He's an Origin player, we believe that and Kotoni knows that as well."@brisbanebroncos coach Kevin Walters thinks Brad Fittler should pick Kotoni Staggs for #stateoforigin again because of the improvement in the "effort areas" of his game.@NRLonNine @9NewsQueensland #NRL pic.twitter.com/b1c0KYwWDh
— Mark Gottlieb (@MarkGottlieb) June 2, 2023
If Kotoni Staggs played his whole career like he’s played the first 10 minutes of this match he would be a $1m player and amongst first picked for NSW. #NRLSharksBroncos
— Dwayne Nicholls (@PaintballWagga) June 3, 2023
Our best defensive performance so far. 🔥 Origin players backing up. Staggs claiming daddy status over Talakai AGAIN. What a win boys. UP THE MIGHTY BRONCOS!!!!!! #BronxNation
— FullySaxxedBaybay🇼🇸🇳🇺 (@EatDaMulz274) June 3, 2023
Broncos return to top, Nicho Hynes heroics in vain
The gritty win saw the Broncos reclaim top spot on the NRL ladder for the time being, while the Sharks will fall out of the top four if Melbourne beat 16th-placed North Queensland on Sunday. Brisbane can now realistically aim to finish the crucial Origin period in first place, given they have byes before the next two games.
Brisbane coach Kevin Walters was full of praise for his troops - particularly his Origin contingent - after the match. "I think it's that care factor for the team. That's where we're going with the Broncos," he said.
"They really care about the place and they want to play a big part of it. That's great. "It's a tough place to win and our boys were really good tonight."
Cronulla coach Craig Fitzgibbon was also enthused by the performance of Nicho Hynes, who only played the final 10 minutes of Origin Game I. Hynes gave the Sharks the lead when he edged up to the defence from a scrum play and popped a short ball up to Siosifa Talakai, who dashed over to score.
The reigning Dally M Medallist cooled off in the second stanza but finished with four line break assists and 156 run metres. "It's tough to wash yourself off after that (Origin) and feel the response to come back," Fitzgibbon said. "His effort, he was everywhere. He never stopped trying."
"He started to tune in pretty quickly from the other night, to get back out there. There was a lot of decision-making that rested on his shoulders there. He certainly didn't let us down with his effort."
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