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Queensland legend Gorden Tallis has expressed his disbelief over Brad Fittler's decision to drop Kotoni Staggs in favour of Matt Burton for State of Origin game II.
Fittler made mass changes to his NSW side that lost 16-10 to Queensland in the series opener in Sydney, unveiling the new-look squad on Sunday night.
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Staggs joined Ryan Matterson, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Tariq Sims in being dropped, with Jack Wighton the only forced change with Covid-19.
Jacob Saifiti and Tyson Frizell were also left out of the extended squad for Origin II to be played in Perth on June 26.
Reacting to Fittler's changes on Sunday, Tallis couldn't believe that Staggs had been dropped after just one game.
"I don't think any of those guys deserved to be dropped," Tallis told Triple M radio.
"They've picked a five-eighth (Burton) to play in the centres.
"If I got caught out on an edge and there's Kotoni Staggs in front of me or Matt Burton, I would dread having Kotoni Staggs."
While Burton has been playing five-eighth for the Bulldogs, he was the Dally M centre of the year at the Panthers last year and will link back up with former Penrith teammates Nathan Cleary and Jerome Luai.
— NSWBlues (@NSWBlues) June 19, 2022
Brad Fittler defends State of Origin changes
Fittler has yet to name his official, 17 but confirmed Burton and Stephen Crichton would form a new-look centre pairing.
The NSW coach said the only option after a defeat was to change tactics, especially when the three-match series was on the line.
"When you get beaten, you need to reassess," he said.
"We have no safety net at the moment.
"We went into the first game thinking a certain way about how the game would go and what we could do but it didn't happen."
Burton and Crichton have just one game of Origin experience between them after Crichton came off the bench in a lukewarm showing in Sydney.
"Jack Wighton obviously can't play and I just thought of Matt Burton, with the way he's playing (for the Bulldogs)," Fittler said.
"What Crichton does with Penrith, he's a great defender."
Jake Trbojevic will return to the 17 for similar reasons.
"Just the way the game went in Game I, I think we needed someone really defensively-minded," Fittler said of his decision to select the Manly middle forward.
Fittler explained he had dropped Sims with one eye on the years ahead. Sims will be 33 in February and could choose to retire when his contract expires after 2023.
"He's done a fantastic job for NSW. We really appreciate what he's been doing but we're looking towards the future," Fittler said.
Fittler has repeatedly stressed the importance of versatility and said the inclusion of Sharks enforcer Siosifa Talakai and Roosters forward Angus Crichton would help cover all bases.
"(Talakai) started the season in the middle, played on an edge and also has played centre," Fittler said.
"He was unlucky not to make the first game. He's someone we've been watching and we've been very excited watching.
"(Angus Crichton) is playing really powerfully at the moment. There are different ways he can play, in the middle or on an edge, but I'm really happy with the way he's going."
Penrith hooker Api Koroisau looks set to start from the bench but Fittler said his selection did not mean the Blues had lost faith in incumbent No.9 Damien Cook, who has been below his best in a hot-and-cold South Sydney outfit.
"That'll be a tactical change, going in with two hookers," Fittler said.
"Between (Cook) and (South Sydney teammate) Cam Murray, we've got a lot of confidence in them. They've been part of this group for a while now."
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