Blues name their Origin squad
Brad Fittler believes he's enjoying a luxury unlike any other afforded his predecessors as NSW coach, given the rare form of Blues representatives across the NRL.
Fittler confirmed 11 rookies will take centre stage in next week's series opener at the MCG, the most debutants in a single game for the sky blue since Origin's inception in 1980.
The first-game coach drew over half of his squad from the the top three teams on the NRL ladder - Penrith, St George Illawarra and Souths - and jettisoned all but six NSW incumbents from a side full of form and attacking flair.
"There's a lot of good players playing for NSW at the moment in their clubs, I don't know if any of the coaches before have had that same luxury," Fittler said.
"You've got to say it is a team that gets you sitting on the edge of your seat, week-in, week-out they've been fantastic for their club, so why not?
"I wasn't concerned about debutants, no doubt we needed some experienced players there. The key is to get the right amount of experienced players and making sure they were fit as well. These days I don't think the kids seem to worry as much as in the past."
Fittler allayed the fitness concerns around rookie centre James Roberts (Achilles) and middle forward Jack de Belin (hip), declaring his entire squad would be training from the get-go this week.
With Roberts partnering 20-year-old Latrell Mitchell and flyers Josh Addo-Carr and Tom Trbojevic across the three-quarter line, the Blues boast one of the fastest Origin backlines in recent memory.
"Glowing" reports from Broncos coach Wayne Bennett confirmed for Fittler that Roberts is ready for the next level, capping a remarkable turnaround for the Brisbane speedster.
As recently as this off-season Roberts checked himself into a rehab facility having battled alcohol and off-field incidents at four different NRL clubs.
"He didn't have it as easy as a lot of people. Speaking to Wayne Bennett, he was glowing of his behaviour this year on and off the field, that counted a lot," Fittler said.
"I've really enjoyed watching him play, and it's not now or never but he's at the age (of 25), he's got a young family, he understands what the consequences (are) if it goes the other way."
The Blues will also field one of the younger NSW sides in some time, with 20-year-old halfback Nathan Cleary epitomising Fitttler's 'if you're old enough, you're good enough' mantra.
Incumbent five-eighth James Maloney is the only player over 30 in the Blues squad, with Fittler confident the Penrith veteran's defence will hold up outside long-time Roosters teammate and NSW skipper Boyd Cordner.
Fittler personally said passing on the NSW incumbents for game one, including big names Aaron Woods, Josh Dugan and Wade Graham, was a particularly tough part of the job.
"I spoke to Wade, he's a good mate of mine and I've coached him a few of times," Fittler said.
"Luke Keary was another tough one, Trent Merrin and Ryan James also I found very tough as well. You can't have them all."
NSW Blues team for State of Origin game one: 1. James Tedesco, 2. Tom Trbojevic, 3. Latrell Mitchell, 4. James Roberts, 5. Josh Addo-Carr, 6. James Maloney, 7. Nathan Cleary, 8. David Klemmer
9. Damien Cook, 10. Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 11. Boyd Cordner (c), 12. Tyson Frizell, 13. Jack De Belin. Interchange: 14. Paul Vaughan, 15. Jake Trbojevic, 16. Angus Crichton, 17. Tyrone Peachey, 18. Tariq Sims, 19. Nick Cotric.
Witness Australia's greatest sporting rivalry when Origin comes to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday, June 6. Bronze tickets available from $49 here