State of Origin 2022: The changes NSW Blues have to make if they lose Game II
The Blues will have to blow up their side and start again if they head into a dead-rubber. Michael Carayannis breaks down who is safe and who is on the chopping block should NSW lose Game II.
More than half the NSW side are not only playing to keep the series alive but they are also fighting for their Origin futures.
It has been seven years since NSW headed into a third Origin with the series already lost. A defeat against the Maroons in Perth will force NSW coach Brad Fittler to blow up his Blues team.
That would almost certainly mean the likes of Daniel Tupou, Damien Cook and Angus Crichton won’t play any further part in the series. Others including Jake Trbojevic, Matt Burton, Jarome Luai, Liam Martin, Sifa Talakai and Api Koroisau would be fighting for their Origin careers.
Stream every game of every round of the 2022 NRL Telstra Premiership Season Live & Ad-Break Free During Play on Kayo. New to Kayo? Try 14-days free now >
Fittler has already shown his hand – making half a dozen changes to the team which lost in game one.
It would also be uncharted territory for Fittler, who has never lost the opening two games since he took over as coach in 2018.
Regardless of the result in Perth, the likes of skipper James Tedesco, Nathan Cleary, Payne Haas, Cameron Murray, Isaah Yeo and probably Brian To’o will be picked for game three in Queensland, barring something catastrophic occurring.
Tedesco, Haas, Murray and Yeo are walk-up starts for the Kangaroos squad while Cleary is locked in a battle with Daly Cherry-Evans for the halfback spot at the end-of-year World Cup. Haas is the game’s most destructive forward while Yeo has been arguably the most influential player this year. They all deserve to be considered certainties.
Cook already has one foot out of the team after being demoted to the interchange bench. You sense Crichton and Trobjevic will struggle for game three after being overlooked for the opener. At 29, the selectors may opt against giving Koroisau another chance while debutants Burton and Talakai could be unlucky omissions.
Fittler has made a number of references to ‘the future’ during this year’s Origin campaign, but Cook, 31, remains upbeat about his chance of staying in the team.
“Everytime you’re in this jersey you just want to do the best job you can,” Cook said.
“You rent this jersey, you borrow it ... while you are in it you try to do the best job that you can and you leave it in a better position and that has been my mindset, no matter if I am wearing the no.9 or the 14, like this weekend.
“I will be going out there to play my best footy and to do whatever it takes to get the team the win and go to a decider.
“I got my spot through playing good footy back in 2018 and you have to make sure you are still playing good footy to earn the right to stay in the jersey.”
Martin, Luai and Junior Paulo may be saved because of their good club form but Tupou won’t play Origin again after narrowly being picked for game one.
Tariq Sims, Ryan Matterson, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Kotoni Staggs were dropped after the first loss and are unlikely to come back into the mix.
If Latrell Mitchell is fit, he will take a centre spot. You would be hard-pressed leaving Jack Wighton out, given his Origin I efforts, so he will battle with Stephen Crichton for the other starting centre position.
Teenage sensation Joseph Suaalii will almost certainly become the youngest Blues player since Fittler and play on the wing.
Josh Addo-Carr will have to usurp To’o but he faces a tough task of winning his Origin jumper back with Suaalii likely to be picked ahead of him.
The impressive Blayke Brailey should be in line for an Origin debut with Cook and Koroisau out. He would face competition from North Queensland’s Reece Robson. Manly’s Haumole Olakau‘atu should give the Blues some punch on an edge.
There should be a new-look bench.
The luckless duo in Ryan Papenhuyzen and Victor Radley would finally end their long wait to play Origin, while Hudson Young could give NSW some much-needed grunt.
South Sydney duo Tevita Tatola and Keaon Koloamatangi will be the others in the mix to make their debut off the bench.
Cleary’s Blues brothers vow to be better bodyguards
We must help and protect, Nathan. Otherwise, the consequences are unthinkable.
That is the strong message from NSW’s camp after halfback Nathan Cleary – perhaps unfairly – shouldered significant blame for losing State of Origin I.
Cleary was rattled by Queensland, who placed fierce and relentless pressure on his usually meticulous kicking game during the defeat in Sydney.
In a bid to ease pressure and absolve Cleary, NSW forward Isaah Yeo came forward on Wednesday to take his share of the loss on game one.
The Blues know they must support Cleary more effectively at the ruck or face their star playmaker again competing under heavy pressure – and the possibility of a gut-wrenching series loss.
Yeo, who has teamed up again with Matt Burton, his old mate from Dubbo, said NSW must safeguard Cleary.
“We understand that as a group we need to be better for him,” Yeo said. “As a team we can help him a lot more and that will be our plan this weekend.
“If everyone else is doing their job then it will make his job easier as well.
“In my eyes, he’s the best player in the game.
“Queensland won the ruck, they had opportunities to get to him and we need to nullify that as much as we can. You like him kicking off the back of quick rucks and that probably wasn’t the case in game one. That takes the kick pressure out of it.
“There are things we can do around the game that can help Nathan. We can get to our spots better and we’ll have to do that. That’s the game plan going in.
“If we’re playing well as a group then that will help him and give him more time.
“They outplayed us in a lot of aspects.”
NSW has been working overtime at training to mend deficient areas from Sydney.
And, to a man, NSW players have vowed to individually assist Cleary. None more so than Yeo, his great mate at Penrith.
“I understand that I need to be better as well to help as much as I can. You have to take that personally on yourself to get your game right,” Yeo said.
“I need to make sure I choose the right passes for us. I’ve got a certain way that I play and I have to make sure I’m doing that well.
“Nathan and I work well together. If I’m playing well then it’s going to give him time and space. I try and help him as much as I can. He probably helps me more than I help him but we get along really well, we captain Penrith together.”
Cleary surprised teammates by his harsh self-criticism after Origin I.
When interviewed after the game, Cleary was clearly gutted at his own performance.
“Nathan is his own hardest critic and that shouldn’t be the case at all,” Yeo said.
“That’s the type of person he is. There are so many people on the field and he doesn’t need to take all that onus on him.
“He takes those games hard, even in club land he is the same. Nathan puts a lot of pressure on himself and a lot of the time he is exceeding everyone else’s expectations. He came out and was disappointed.”
Kaufusi fires back as Origin spat explodes
-Peter Badel, Brent Read, Travis Meyn
A war of words has broken out in the lead-up to Origin II with Crichton lashing Kaufusi, saying the Maroons back-rower should have been suspended for elbowing his Roosters teammate Sam Walker a fortnight ago.
After being charged with dangerous contact, Kaufusi was found not guilty at the NRL judiciary, clearing him for the return bout at Perth’s Optus Stadium. But the controversial fallout saw the Maroons and Melbourne forward labelled a grub by his critics.
Kaufusi has lodged seven early-guilty pleas during his seven-year NRL career for a slew of offences, including a head slam, dangerous contact with a kicker and chicken-wing and grapple tackles.
NSW forward Crichton turned up the heat on Kaufusi on the very day News Corp obtained exclusive images which uncovered Blues teammate Martin’s four minutes of madness in Origin I.
But Kaufusi lobbed another grenade back at the Blues, rubbishing suggestions he is a dirty player and saying he is prepared to fight fire with fire if Martin and Crichton seek retribution in Origin II.
“At the end of the day, I play the way I play, I’m not changing,” Kaufusi said.
“I’m not a dirty player. If people think I am, I can’t change their opinions.
“One of the best parts of my game is my aggression in defence and that’s what has got me to this level. I bring that aggression to the Queensland team.
“I will keep trying to do that.
“I won’t be dirty in Origin II, but I love playing aggressively. I love playing hard and tough and that’s what I’ll be doing again this week, as long as it’s within the rules.”
Crichton gave Kaufusi an uppercut on Tuesday, telling Sydney media: “I definitely think he should’ve copped something for that (elbow on Walker). I don’t think there’s a place for that in our game. I wish I’d realised at the time, I would’ve reacted, but I just had no idea it had happened.”
But Maroons five-eighth Cameron Munster launched a passionate defence of Kaufusi, urging his Melbourne cohort not to change his ways.
“I love playing with ‘Fus’,” he said. “He brings a bit of aggression and he is a good ballrunner. It wasn’t ideal what happened to Sam Walker, but if we are worrying about what Felise did, there is a lot of worse things in the game.
“There was no malice in it ... we go out to play a contact sport.”
As rival back-rowers, Kaufusi will invariably come face-to-face with Martin and Crichton in the heat of battle at Optus Stadium and says the firestorm of criticism has not affected his mindset going into Origin II.
“I’ve been absolutely smashed about what happened (elbowing Walker), but I can sleep at night,” he said.
“The best way to deal with it was to switch off all the shows and not read the papers. But it was hard when your family lives and breathes league. I had calls from my parents, they followed all the news, and I said just don‘t worry about it.
“I was getting hammered on socials, but I don’t let it get to me, mate. I just focus on my job.
“It was unfortunate what happened to Walker, but there was no intent or malice, so I thought, ‘Stuff that, I am not going to cop it on the chin when I think I have done nothing wrong’.
“It was a tough week, but I’ve put it behind me and I’m ready for NSW this week.”
Originally published as State of Origin 2022: The changes NSW Blues have to make if they lose Game II