Greg Alexander has admitted the Blues made a massive blunder in not selecting a utility player on the bench for the State of Origin decider against Queensland.
NSW were forced into an unexpected reshuffle early in Wednesday night’s deciding Game III when fullback James Tedesco was heavily concussed and never returned.
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Centre Clint Gutherson was shifted to fullback, but with no backs on the bench, back-rower Isaah Yeo was forced to play right centre.
Gun Melbourne Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen was in the extended NSW squad, however coach Brad Fittler opted to go with four forwards on the bench.
And that selection gamble backfired when Tedesco was knocked out of the game.
Yeo, who normally defends in the middle of the field or on the left edge, looked well out of place on the right, especially against world-class Queensland centre Dane Gagai.
Queensland butchered two tries on the wing of Yeo and Josh Addo-Carr, with Addo-Carr rushing in to help his new centre on multiple occassions.
Phil Gould pointed out the failure in commentary during the game.
“My concern with putting Yeo to right centre, he doesn’t necessarily like playing on the right side of the field and he is marking Dane Gagai because Dane Gagai is playing left,” Gould said.
“This is why I don’t think Yeo should be playing right centre. Look how he was really found out for pace here when the ball gets to his outside.
“He just hasn’t got the pace to match it with (Corey) Allan.
“That really drags Addo-Carr in. Had the pass been better, I think he (Holmes) scores. I think they need to rethink this, the Blues, about how they are lining their back line up.”
Things got even worse for the Blues when five-eighth Cody Walker was also concussed in the final stages, forcing Jack Wighton from centre to No.6 and back-rower Angus Crichton to left centre.
After the match, NSW assistant coach Alexander admitted they made an error in selecting four forwards on the bench, saying Fittler was “shattered”.
“There wouldn’t have been a better replacement than Ryan Papenhuyzen but who’s to know that your fullback’s going to get injured,” he said on SEN radio.
“In hindsight, Ryan Papenhuyzen would’ve been a great selection on the bench.”
Daily Telegraph writer Phil Rothfield said the blunder may have cost NSW the series.
“Brad Fittler and his advisor Greg Alexander have to accept responsibility for a selection gamble that blew up in their faces in the Origin decider,” Rothfield wrote.
“Either Melbourne Storm’s Ryan Papenhuyzen or the Sydney Roosters’ Luke Keary should have been wearing the number 14 jersey for the overall balance of the side.
“The problem was having to bring Isaah Yeo, who has played all season in the middle for Penrith, into the centres. It doesn’t work at this level.”
NSW unhappy with James Tedesco treatment
Controversy erupted around the Tedesco injury when Queensland forward Jai Arrow roughed up the NSW star while he was heavily concussed.
Arrow apologised following Queensland's nail-biting triumph at Suncorp Stadium, after he picked up and then dropped Tedesco when the NSW captain was already in bad shape.
Fittler said Arrow had shown a lack of respect to Tedesco, who was left flat on his stomach after collecting the knee of Josh Papalii on a kick return.
While Arrow insisted he was unaware Tedesco was concussed and immediately sought help when he realised how injured the Blues' fullback was, Nathan Cleary felt referee Gerard Sutton should have intervened.
“I kind of brought it up to the ref after it. I was like, 'that's not really on', especially when the guy's knocked out cold on the ground,” Cleary said.
“I'm not the ref but I thought he could have at least looked into it.”
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