Truth behind Fittler’s toughest Origin call

NSW coach Brad Fittler says Jack Wighton’s versatility led him to select the 2020 Dally M winner on the bench rather than at five-eighth for this year’s Origin opener.

On Sunday evening, Fittler announced Panthers star Jarome Luai would make his Origin debut at six in Game I, pushing Wighton out of the starting 13.

However, Fittler recognises both Wighton and Luai have a role to play in reclaiming the Origin shield.

“I think with Jack starting it makes it a bit tricky to get Jarome into the game,” Fittler told NRL 360 on Monday night.

“I think with Jack on the bench, he covers so many positions.

“I think we’ve seen this year that a lot of people get injured and there’s head injuries and all sorts of things going on so I think Jack Wighton on the bench gives us the opportunity to cover a lot of them.”

In his NRL career, Wighton has started in every backline position, chalking up 35 club level appearances as an outside back to Luai’s one.

In addition, Fittler will hope starting Luai in the halves allows the Blues to capitalise on the 24-year-old’s synergy with incumbent halfack Nathan Cleary.

Luai and Cleary boast a staggering 79 per cent win-rate as the Panthers halves combination and have both taken their game to new heights in Penrith’s perfect start to 2021.

Cleary and Luai will take their partnership onto rugby league’s biggest stage. Digital image by Gregg Porteous � NRL PhotosSource:Supplied

Panthers co-captain Isaah Yeo is also set to feature in Fittler’s side for Game I, while fellow mountain men Brian To’o and Liam Martin have been given the nod to make their Origin debuts on June 9.

Penrith hooker Apisai Koroisau joins them in Blues camp as the team’s 18th man for the series opener.

On Monday afternoon, the NRL confirmed Game I would be moved from the MCG to Townsville’s Queensland Country Bank Stadium amid Victoria’s Covid-19 outbreak.

While the move provoked furore from the Blues faithful, Fittler shrugged off suggestions that his side would be disadvantaged by the last-minute change.

“I just think it’s a bigger challenge. Queensland haven’t played on that ground either before but without a doubt there’ll be more Maroon jerseys in the crowd than New South Wales,” the two-time Premiership player said.

“It is what it is, it’s a footy field and I think if we win, which we will win, it makes it a bit sweeter.”

Fittler had a taste of Origin sweetness on Monday with news that his contract as Blues coach has been extended into next season.

“Freddy” called the re-signing “a huge boost going into this year’s series”, as the Blues hope to make amends for their shock loss in 2020’s post-season triptych.

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