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Brad Fittler has thrown Kotoni Staggs up as the frontrunner for the NSW left centre role after conceding Latrell Mitchell will all but certainly miss the State of Origin series opener.
Four weeks out from NSW's squad announcement, coach Fittler admitted he was impressed as Staggs got the better of fellow contender Siosifa Talakai in their head to head duel last Thursday night, urging him to back it up consistently.
The 23-year-old Staggs scored a great try and defended Cronulla behemoth Talakai brilliantly in Brisbane's 16-7 NRL win.
"The fact is it was obvious what was going on, both players were aware of the challenge and when players step up under that sort of pressure, that's what State of Origin is all about," Fittler said on Monday.
"Given (that), I think there's a really good push for him ... it's about backing that up and being the best centre."
Another stand out candidate to replace Mitchell is 21-year-old Stephen Crichton, with the Penrith centre already boasting an impressive combination with Panther teammates and NSW halves Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary.
But Fittler indicated he could have to wait a bit longer for his chance.
"The fact is if players have played together and worked under pressure before it definitely helps, but any combination or relationship starts somewhere," Fittler said.
"(Crichton) still only a kid, he's 20-odd years old, I really think he's gonna be stronger next year, the year after."
Fittler's comments came after it was confirmed Mitchell will fly to America for specialist treatment on his injured hamstring later this month ahead of the June 8 Origin opener.
"We've been really open and honest from early on when he got his injury ... the first game is pretty much nearly out of consideration (for Mitchell), the second game in Perth could be an opportunity," Fittler said.
"The doctors and obviously Latrell will have a big say in how his leg is and if he's capable of playing."
Fittler locked captain James Tedesco in for the No.1 jersey, but added Melbourne's in-form Ryan Papenhuyzen was a serious option for the bench.
"James Tedesco, we don't give our captaincy out that easily, it's normally someone we see in our plans for a long time," he said.
"You need people on the bench that can be a little bit versatile.
"It's a bit of a jigsaw puzzle toward the end, but (Papenhuyzen) is definitely a candidate for that No.14 role."
Fittler is pressing ahead with his Origin plans, despite doubts over the administrative control of the NSW team.
The NSWRL and ARL Commission return to court this week in their battle over February's NSWRL board election, and there remains some possibility the NRL could run the Blues.
ARLC chairman Peter V'landys told AAP last week key NSW staff would be welcome to remain in place, however Fittler is also contracted fulltime to the NSWRL.
Fittler would not be drawn into what could happen if the NSWRL loses control to the NRL.
"I believe there's a court case on Thursday. I'm the coach of the NSW footy team and I believe it's to stay that way ... the rest is out of my control," Fittler said.