Former NSW Blues hooker Michael Ennis reckons Brad Fittler got his Game One team almost spot on, aside from one major omission.
While the expected blooding of 11 debutants was seen as a huge positive by the premiership-winning hooker, Ennis wasn’t so happy with the decision to leave out Sharks co-captain Wade Graham.
“He’s so composed, so crafty, yet so tough and so competitive,” Ennis told Fox Sports.
“His left foot kicking game is a huge string to his bow.
“Now if Maloney’s under pressure, Cleary in his first night in an Origin jersey, to have that experience that Wade Graham brings and also his all-round nous of ball playing and when to run those tough lines, I just think, we see the Queenslanders they come out and pick (Josh) McGuire who hasn’t played for a number of weeks, yet Wade knocks out an 80-minute performance (against Newcastle and doesn’t get picked).
“I think to have someone like Wade Graham on your bench, it astounds me that he didn’t make that Origin side.”
Graham was dropped from the team in favour of boom Rabbitohs second-rower Angus Crichton, a hard-running forward who’s been in sensational form in recent weeks.
Ennis accepted the future Rooster’s form, but declared Graham offered a more complete package.
“It’s a great reward, he’s played well over the past month for South Sydney and there club form has been terrific but I just think you get so much more from a Wade Graham, the whole rounded package of what he brings,” Ennis said.
“And I know he was desperate to play in that Blues jersey, Crichton’s the man who would have missed out.”
That wasn’t Ennis’ only issue with the new-look Blues side, as he argued sensational Raiders winger Nick Cotric should’ve been picked in the starting side ahead of the smaller, more agile Josh Addo-Carr.
Blues captain James Maloney looks set to be just one of six to survive the axe for NSW.
James Tedesco and James Maloney will be the only old faces in a new-look backline, that will include Nathan Cleary at halfback, Tom Trbojevic and Josh Addo-Carr on the wings and James Roberts and Latrell Mitchell in the centres.
David Klemmer and Jake Trbojevic (bench) are the others likely to survive from the forwards, which will include three Dragons in Tyson Frizell, Jack de Belin and Paul Vaughan (bench).
According to a final 17 leaked to News Corp Australia on Sunday night, South Sydney’s Angus Crichton has won out in the battle for the final bench spot ahead of Tariq Sims while Damien Cook will start at hooker.
Tyrone Peachey will also be a bench interchange, after he was preferred ahead of Dragons hooker Cameron McInnes.
The NSW team will be officially unveiled at 6:45pm on Monday night.
Maroons side for Origin I (1-17):
Billy Slater, Valentine Holmes, Greg Inglis (c), Will Chambers, Dane Gagai, Cameron Munster, Ben Hunt, Dylan Napa, Andrew McCullough, Jarrod Wallace, Gavin Cooper, Felise Kaufusi, Josh McGuire, Michael Morgan, Coen Hess, Josh Papalii, Jai Arrow
Likely Blues team for Origin I (1-17):
James Tedesco, Josh Addo-Carr, Latrell Mitchell, James Roberts, Tom Trbojevic, James Maloney, Nathan Cleary, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Damien Cook, David Klemmer, Boyd Cordner (c), Tyson Frizell, Jack de Belin, Tyrone Peachey, Jake Trbojevic, Paul Vaughan, Angus Crichton