State of Origin 2023: What NSW got right and wrong for Game I

Did Brad Fittler get his selections right for the Blues against the Maroons?

Nicho Hynes, Damien Cook and Tom Trbojevic.
The Yahoo Australia Sport team discuss Brad Fittler's selection controversies, including Nicho Hynes (pictured left), Damien Cook (pictured middle) and Tom Trbojevic (pictured right). (Getty Images)


On Monday, Blues coach Brad Fittler announced his squad that will take on the Maroons in Game I of this year's State of Origin series. Fittler delivered a number of selection shocks in his bid to overturn last year's brutal series loss.

Three reporters from the Yahoo Sports team have looked over Fittler's selections and delivered their verdict on whether he may have got it right, or worryingly wrong for Game I.

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Adam Lucius, Yahoo Sport Columnist

GOT IT RIGHT: Tevita Pangai Junior

He once admitted to being a Queensland supporter, has anger management issues only a therapist could cure and hasn’t exactly turned out to be a prized signing at the Bulldogs. But I'm willing to overlook all the boxes he doesn't tick for the one Tevita Pangai Junior does tick – a touch of Origin lunacy.

We all know there are different rules in Origin to your normal club game. A face slap will get you three weeks on the sideline during the regular season.

A decapitation in Origin will result in a grade one contrary conduct and $1,800 fine. Pangai Jnr's selection has all the hallmarks of Mark Geyer's infamous performance in game two of the 1991 Origin series, where an NSW official instructed MG to "raise hell" as the players ran out.

Raise hell he did, taking Wally Lewis and anyone in a maroon jumper with him in a crazy-eyed performance still talked about more than 30 years later. Geyer was Jack Nicholson (circa: The Shining) in footy boots that night.

Pangai Jnr won’t have quite the same license, but he'll still be told to get out there and create his own brand of mayhem, 2023 style. He's exactly what the Blues need against a tough pack of Queensland hombres who don’t need to be told the gloves are off in Origin.

GOT IT WRONG: Damien Cook

To quote that great old rugby league front-rower Meatloaf: You took the words right out of my mouth. Or, at least, Latrell Mitchell took the words right out of my mouth when discussing the omission of his Rabbitohs teammate Damien Cook from the NSW team.

"When he is doing his thing, playing his footy, he is the best hooker in the game, 100 per cent, by a mile," Latrell declared. "He has a running game like no one else. That first 20, 30 metres, no one is faster. It’s a bit surprising to see Cooky is not in the team."

Api Koroisau passes the ball ahead of State of Origin.
Api Koroisau (pictured) received Fittler's backing, despite the form of Damien Cook, for State of Origin. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

A bit surprising? Staggering is more like it. Api Koroisau is a wonderful player and this is not a knock on him.

But Cook has been a big reason why Souths share the competition lead and are, in a lot of people's eyes, the pick to win the 2023 premiership. Api has busted his gut at the Tigers but they have struggled for most of the year.

Souths' attack is the fourth best in the comp; the Tigers' second worst even after their record win over the Cowboys. Cook is the form player of the two and Brad Fittler will live to regret leaving him out.

Andrew Reid, Senior Sports Reporter

GOT IT RIGHT: Tom Trbojevic

I'll admit, if 'Turbo' didn't absolutely shoot the lights out in Manly's demolition of Canberra, he doesn't get in Freddy's Blues side. Yes, he has dominated on the Origin arena like few before him, but the Dally M Medal-winning star that tore the Maroons to shreds in 2021 has been MIA for the better part of two years.

Every man and his dog has had their say on Tommy's famous hamstring and the consensus is Manly's superstar fullback has been nowhere near his best in 2023. That was until Sunday in the nation's capital at least.

With the sort of timing that would make Aussie cricket great Don Bradman proud, 'Turbo' left it to the 11th hour to play his best game in a long time. Aside from his stunning hat-trick, Trbojevic was everywhere in a perfect Origin audition that proved many of his doubters wrong.

He showed strength to haul three Raiders players over the line for his first try and evidence that his turn of pace was back after being infamously burned by Cronulla's Briton Nikora a couple of weeks ago.

GOT IT WRONG: Tevita Pangai Jr

At the risk of upsetting my fellow columnist, I will have to respectfully agree to disagree on the Canterbury wrecking ball. Yes, Pangai Jr brings that element of unpredictable 'madman' to the Blues and would be one of the first players you'd want in your corner if big Tino Fa'asuamaleaui tried to rough anyone up, but it's one gamble too many for a 'slap-happy' Freddy to take.

Brad Fittler surprised many NRL fans when calling up Tevita Pangai Junior (pictured) for the Blues. (Getty Images)
Brad Fittler surprised many NRL fans when calling up Tevita Pangai Junior (pictured) for the Blues. (Getty Images)

Fittler has clearly taken a leaf out of the great Kenny Rogers' book, when the Blues 'Gambler' could have easily picked his tried and tested front-row general Daniel Saifiti, who has consistently shown in the past that he's made for Origin.

Time will tell whether the Blues coach knows when to hold them or when to fold them, if he's left counting the cost of a devastating Game I defeat.

Riley Morgan, Senior Sports Reporter

GOT IT RIGHT: Josh Addo-Carr

There were talks one game back from injury for the Bulldogs wasn't enough time for the game's premier winger to be fit in time for Game I. Nonsense.

Addo-Carr proved Fittler wrong last year, having missed out on Blues selection, with a record-setting World Cup try haul. And there was no way the Blues coach was going to pass up on picking The Fox again.

Watch him make up for lost time in Game I with a show-stopping performance.

Josh Addo-Carr celebrates winning the World Cup.
Josh Addo-Carr (pictured) was unlucky to be omitted last year and will prove how devastating he is on the wing in Game 1. (Getty Images)

GOT IT WRONG: Nicho Hynes

Brad Fittler may have caught too many Old El Paso ads on TV leading up to Blues selection when deciding on Jarome Luai and Nicho Hynes. The argument over soft or hard tacos, or Luai and Hynes, have both been resolved with the same phrase: "Why not have both."

Fittler finished months of intense debate on whether to drop the incumbent five-eighth for the reigning Dally M winner by including both of them in the squad. However, the Sharks No.7 is set to make his Origin debut off the bench playing an X-factor role. He could also be used earlier if injury comes into play.

But does Hynes provide that spark when the chips are down? Harking back to the early 2000s, the diminutive and explosive Craig Wing would run onto the field when the Maroons were tired and relentlessly pepper the defence in a bid to change momentum.

Jarome Luai and Nicho Hynes.
Fittler opted to pick both Jarome Luai (pictured left) and Nicho Hynes (pictured right) for his Blues side. (Getty Images)

Hynes deserves his spot, and arguably deserves the starting No.6 jersey, but is his best position for the Blues the utility role? I think not.

There has been reports Luai could shift to No.9 during the game, to allow Hynes a run at five-eighth. Maybe Hynes will start and Luai - a slightly more explosive runner - could come off the bench.

But rather than picking Matt Burton from the bench to launch his otherworldly bombs, or a Stephen Crichton to wreak havoc, Fittler has largely gone for a like-for-like replacement.

Is Fittler overthinking the utility role ahead of Game I? I think so.

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