Hardy's NRL Column : The case for Freddy's Blues

By Mark Hardy - NRL Correspondent

Catch Mark on instagram and his personal website - Mark is a long suffering Eels fan.

NSW lost Game one and Game 2 is do or die and the pressure is on to show that NSW's series win last year wasn't just a one off.

Coach Brad Fittler has made some serious changes much to the disagreement of the media and any rugby league fan with an opinion, while little has changed for Queensland modus operandi of 'if it isn't broke don't fix it'.

As one of the rugby league punters out there with an opinion, I have to say I'm onside with Fittlers selections.

2018 champions NSW Blues were praised by many as the team the people of NSW have long waited for, and to be perfectly honest the team never excited me much for reasons I can’t put my finger on and even with the series victory I still wasn't convinced that this was the team that could continue to get the job done.

When the game two squad was announced I was excited and I realised the reason behind why last years team didn't make me all tingly inside. The new squad looks to have the right mix of new blood and veteran players that can keep the rookies calm when things aren't going their way. You better believe that with Hunt and Cherry-Evans steering Qld around, whilst Munster and Ponga attack vulnerabilities, NSW will be under the pump for the full 80.

Let’s look at some examples of why I'm backing Fittler's changes to the squad:

It is better late than never for Dale Finucane first Origin appearance. This guy is Mr Consistent when it comes to club football, always on the board for the VB Hard Work Index - AND JUST TRIES REAL HARD. He's a team player, has been in plenty of big games with the Storm and is a grand Final winner so I don't think the Origin arena will worry Dale.

Blake Ferguson is an interesting choice by Fittler but he's been good for Parramatta even if they haven't. He's played big games, he's been at this level before, a Grand Final winner and he's a big unit which will be needed when he'll be marking Corey Oates. Feguson is a yardage gaining outside back who can take pressure off the forwards when carrying the ball up.

Tariq Sims last year finally started playing the football that most knew he was eventually capable of producing and earned his spot in Game three 2018. Maybe he's hasn't been as impressive this year but he'll be like a bull at the gate wanting to cement his place as the team enforcer. The main thing I like about Sims’ inclusion is that he's got some mongrel in him, won't back down from the push and shove of Qld and he likes to niggle and get under the skin of his opponents, which is something that NSW have lacked since Michael Ennis’ time with the Blues.

The Queensland Maroons take on the New South Wales Blues in Game 1 of the 2019 State of Origin Series.

Adding James Maloney in after Mitchell Pierce had been ruled out with injury was a logical choice for me. Without Maloney's guidance in Game one and Cody Walker being more of an eyes up, read and react player rather than an organiser, Nathan Cleary appeared to be lost at times having to fully take the reins for NSW. Maloney will bring organisation, guidance and calm to the team as well as taking pressure of Cleary which will help him relax into his natural game (Editors note: Play Walker off the bench - a logical #14).

Daniel Saifiti is one of the more controversial choices made by Fittler, Saifiti has a massive task in replacing Klemmer at Origin level. He's proved he can do it at club level against some of the biggest and baddest forwards in the comp being the Burgess Brother and the Storm pack, so it seems right to let him continue to do what he's been doing at the next level.

Rounding things out is the smart Wade Graham who is arguably the best All-Rounder in the game, I don't think there's a lot of argument going around about his choice in the team, only perhaps from a fitness point of view point, Graham hasn’t pulled a long shift for Cronulla since returning from injury. He can cover multiple positions, and is a dangerous, intelligent edge ball runner and things just seem to happen when he's on the field.

A concern I think is legitimate is Fittler hasn’t replaced Jack Wighton’s bench utility and play making, if a key positional player goes down in the early stages of the game, there is going to be some serious reshuffling, however that’s enough hypotheticals.