Brad Fittler's shock call on starting centres for State of Origin I

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Jack Wighton and Stephen Crichton, pictured here in the NRL.
Jack Wighton will start at left centre of NSW instead of Stephen Crichton. Image: Getty

Brad Fittler has dropped another State of Origin selection bombshell after revealing that Jack Wighton will start at left centre for the Blues, with Stephen Crichton to come off the bench.

Crichton was thought to have won the starting job on the left alongside Kotoni Staggs at right centre, and Nicho Hynes appeared to be the likely bench utility.

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But Fittler revealed on Monday morning that Wighton will start in the centres and Crichton will fill the No.14 role.

Wighton himself admitted his surprise at the news, only told of his centre shift by reporters before going to confirm the situation personally with Fittler.

The move means Hynes will only stay on as 18th man rather than as a bench utility, while Liam Martin is also on interchange with Tyson Frizell missing out.

"The big thing with Jack is he has played in that position for us a few times and done a good job," Fittler said.

"His last two games (on coming back from suspension) he has looked fast and fresh and broke the line a lot.

"His kicking game has been impressive. Having that style of play with his focus ... That was a huge part of the decision."

Jack Wighton, pictured here in action for NSW in State of Origin III in 2021.
Jack Wighton in action for NSW in State of Origin III in 2021. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Wighton played centre in NSW's last series loss in 2020, and came off the bench in the first two games last year before starting at No.6 in the dead rubber.

He was initially considered an outsider for the centre role, but will now have Daniel Tupou outside him on the left with Staggs and Brian To'o to play on the right flank.

"The experience (was key)," Fittler said.

"I was mindful of not putting inexperienced people together. I think that is really important.

"Given the kicking game we have seen from Cherry-Evans and Munster.

"That has been a big part of our game. I think that is sometimes where experience under conditions can help."

Brad Fittler, pictured here in State of Origin camp in 2021.
Brad Fittler in State of Origin camp in 2021. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

Brad Fittler's selection shocks for State of Origin opener

Wighton's starting berth is the latest selection shock from Fittler after incumbent winger Josh Addo-Carr was left out of the squad in favour of Tupou.

Jake Trbojevic and Angus Crichton also missed out despite playing in winning NSW sides in the last few years.

Martin's debut means there will be six Penrith players in the side - the most of any club in a NSW team since St George Illawarra in 2011.

He will be joined on the bench by Stephen Crichton, Ryan Matterson and Reagan Campbell-Gillard, with the latter playing his first Origin game since his debut in 2018.

Frizell, Jacob Saifiti, Joseph Suaalii and Apisai Koroisau will all be released back to play for their NRL clubs this weekend, after acting as the reserves in Fittler's initial 22-man squad.

NSW team: James Tedesco (capt), Brian To'o, Kotoni Staggs, Jack Wighton, Daniel Tupou, Jarome Luai, Nathan Cleary, Payne Haas, Damien Cook, Junior Paulo, Cameron Murray, Tariq Sims, Isaah Yeo. Bench: Stephen Crichton, Liam Martin, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Ryan Matterson. 18th man: Nicho Hynes.

with AAP

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