The Blues stormed to victory in 2018, but how many players will survive from that side?Picture: Brett Costello
The Blues stormed to victory in 2018, but how many players will survive from that side?Picture: Brett Costello

Monday Buzz: Eight Blues changes Fittler must make

NSW coach Brad Fittler has no choice but to make eight changes to his  Blues team that won last year's State of Origin series when he selects the side next weekend.

It is almost absurd to tear apart a winning 2018 squad … but still a necessity.

Tom Trbojevic, James Roberts, James Maloney, Nathan Cleary, Tariq Sims, Tyrone Peachey, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Jack de Belin will not be there for a variety of reasons.

And nor should they be. Origin sides should always be picked around form.

You get a jersey because you are currently the best player in the state in your position.

There are a few exceptions to this rule but even Queensland these days are the same.

In 2017, the Maroons left cham­pion Billy Slater out of the fullback position for Darius Boyd and he had more runs on the board than Maloney and Cleary combined.

When you think about it, this is one of the easier NSW teams to pick, despite sweeping changes.

Brad Fittler has plenty to ponder ahead of naming his Blues team for Origin I.
Brad Fittler has plenty to ponder ahead of naming his Blues team for Origin I.

In the starting 13 there is really only debate over one position, at right centre.

I have gone for Josh Morris because he has been there, done that. Plus he's in good form.

The rest pick themselves.

Outside of right centre, the No.14 utility role is the most debatable.

I have gone for Cody Walker because he has been arguably the best player in the competition this year. He will handle this arena because he's so naturally gifted.

Mitch Aubusson is the other contender because he can play hooker, edge forward, five-eighth or centre. Plus, he is so tough and experienced.

But it would be wrong to ignore Walker's form in the opening 10 rounds. He was again outstanding on Saturday night against the Raiders.

It could be bye bye for James Maloney. Picture: Brett Costello
It could be bye bye for James Maloney. Picture: Brett Costello

For Fittler, it is no longer a tough decision to brush last year's series-winning halves, Maloney and Cleary. They have made the decision for him in Penrith's seven straight losses.

They are flat out holding first-grade positions at the Panthers, let alone playing Origin.

It's interesting that both were playing much better football last year under Anthony Griffin, who was sacked on the eve of the finals.

Now they are struggling under Ivan Cleary, whose attacking statistics as a coach have been the ­subject of much discussion in recent weeks.

The Panthers are ranked 16th for tries scored this season. Under Cleary last year, the Wests Tigers were also ranked 16th. And in 2015 under Cleary, the Panthers were again the worst attacking side in the competition.

Yet he got a five-year contract worth $5 million.

Cody Walker’s form has been undeniable. Picture: AAP
Cody Walker’s form has been undeniable. Picture: AAP

Field position is not the problem at the Panthers. It's that the playmakers can't convert it into points.

This year, the Panthers have been tackled in their opposition 20m zone more times than last year.

Yet they are averaging only 13 points a game compared with 22 last year.

Not that it's Fittler's problem.

He will take Luke Keary and Adam Reynolds to Suncorp Stadium on June 5 as the playmakers.

They won a premiership together at the Rabbitohs in 2014 and can step up to do it again for the Blues.

BUZZ'S BLUES TEAM FOR ORIGIN I

1) James Tedesco (Roosters)

2) Josh Addo-Carr (Storm)

3) Latrell Mitchell (Roosters)

4) Josh Morris (Sharks)

5) Blake Ferguson (Eels)

6) Luke Keary (Roosters)

7) Adam Reynolds (Rabbitohs)

8) Dave Klemmer (Knights)

9) Damien Cook (Rabbitohs)

10) Paul Vaughan (Dragons)

11) Boyd Cordner (Roosters)

12) Tyson Frizell (Dragons)

13) Jake Trbojevic (Sea Eagles)

INTERCHANGE

14) Cody Walker (Rabbitohs)

15) Angus Crichton (Roosters)

16) Cameron Murray (Rabbitohs)

17) Payne Haas (Broncos)

GONE FROM 2018

Tom Trbojevic (injured)

James Roberts (form)

James Maloney (form)

Nathan Cleary (form)

Jack de Belin (suspended)

Tariq Sims (form/injured)

Tyrone Peachey (form)

Reagan Campbell-Gillard (form)