Brad Fittler has turned to his old Penrith stomping ground in a bid to wrest back the Origin shield with six in-form Panthers picked for NSW alongside a resurgent Latrell Mitchell, recalled for the first time in two years.
Mt Druitt-bred livewires Jarome Luai and Brian To'o, as well as workhorse back-rower Liam Martin, have been named for their Blues debuts alongside Penrith co-captains Nathan Cleary and Isaah Yeo.
Luai's rise to the NSW five-eighth jersey means Jack Wighton will be the bench utility as Cleary and Luai reprise a halves partnership they first struck up as 15-year-olds in Penrith's junior system.
Fittler is leaning on his junior club's strong representation to help atone for their upset defeat at the hands of Queensland in what was dubbed the "unloseable" 2020 series.
He has made six changes to that Origin III side, with Cody Walker, Clint Gutherson, Daniel Tupou, Dale Finucane and Nathan Brown making way on form and Angus Crichton out suspended.
Mitchell's is the most noteworthy inclusion, the Rabbitohs star back in sky blue for the first time since 2019 when his mid-series demotion led to a fall-out with Blues management.
Mitchell will partner Tom Trbojevic in the centres, while Dragons enforcer Tariq Sims is also back in the Blues' fold for the first time since that 2019 campaign as well.
Knights veteran Tyson Frizell had been set to take up his regular right-edge back-row spot until going down late in Newcastle's stirring win over Manly.
Match: Maroons v Blues
Game 1 -
Venue: Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
His ankle injury suffered just an hour before Fittler was due to name his side comes as a brutal blow for the sky blue regular.
Sims starts on the right in Frizell's place, with Martin coming onto the bench for a storied Blues debut, while Penrith teammate Api Koroisau has also been named in the extended squad along with Rabbitohs speedster Campbell Graham.
"I’m really happy with the squad we’ve announced to face the Maroons for the opening game of the series," Fittler said.
"We’ve got a good mix of players from in-form teams and players who have worn the NSW Blues jumper with distinction in the past and never let their state down."
Broncos behemoth Payne Haas will also go into Blues camp under a fitness cloud, though he is expected to take his place up front as a "bone bruise" in his knee continues to heal well.
Haas had initially been fearing up to a month out after playing through a knee injury against Melbourne, however he has avoided a tear to his MCL and faces a 10-day rehab program to be fit for Origin I.
Fittler has maintained faith in both Wighton and hooker Damien Cook despite both copping criticism over their early 2021 form.
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James Tedesco captains the side once more in Boyd Cordner's absence.
Tedesco and speed sensation Josh Addo-Carr will begin preparations sporting hip injuries picked up in round 12, though neither are in any doubt for the June 9 series opener.
Earlier on Sunday Cameron Murray and Yeo both avoided bans over respective crusher and high tackles over the weekend, with Yeo free to play Origin by copping a $1150 fine with an early guilty plea.
Murray has been named as left-edge back-rower with Haas to come off the bench alongside Eels man mountain Junior Paulo, while Blues regulars Jake Trbojevic and Daniel Saifiti lead the pack up front.
- James Tedesco
- Brian To'o
- Latrell Mitchell
- Tom Trbojevic
- Josh Addo-Carr
- Jarome Luai
- Nathan Cleary
- Daniel Saifiti
- Damien Cook
- Jake Trbojevic
- Cameron Murray
- Tariq Sims
- Isaah Yeo
- Jack Wighton
- Junior Paulo
- Payne Haas
- Liam Martin
- Api Koroisau
- Campbell Graham
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