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Blues Origin III team: Finucane set to start

Dale Finucane is set to start at prop for the Blues with Payne Haas on the bench in the reshuffle forced by Daniel Saifiti's withdrawal on Monday due to a rib injury.

In true Brad Fittler fashion, the coach interrupted his Monday morning Zoom call with reporters to speak with Blues doctor Nathan Gibbs, who passed on news that the Knights bookend was reluctantly ruling himself out of Origin III.

As part of the selection shake-up, Wests Tigers rookie Stefano Utoikamanu - with just 16 NRL games to his name - and Eels captain Clint Gutherson have been added to NSW's 20-man squad as reserves on the extended bench.

In the halves, Mitchell Moses and Jack Wighton were preferred at the selection table over South Sydney's Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds to avoid disrupting the devastating game plan that has already secured the Ampol State of Origin shield.

Saifiti's scratching is a cruel blow for the Newcastle prop considering the Steel City remains favourite to host game three on July 14, with Fittler describing the news as a "huge loss".

"Since [Saifiti's Origin debut in] Perth a couple of years ago he's been at the head of our footy team," Fittler said.

"There was a three-way discussion between Newcastle, Daniel and Nathan Gibbs. Rib cartilage is a very painful injury and if he was to play he would have been under a major amount of duress.

"He wouldn't be able to train that much ... Daniel was of the feeling that he was letting us down but he needs to go away and finish the season strong for Newcastle."

Saifiti's loss is Finucane's gain, with the Melbourne co-captain now set to play his fifth Origin after being an extended squad member for game two, a role Fittler revealed he initially hesitated over.

"I was really hesitant about bringing Dale into the Sydney game, I wasn't sure how he'd perceive coming in as 19th or 20th [man].

"And when I rang him he was stoked. That's the best sign as a coach, when players want to come down and be part of it.

"I always thought if [Finucane] is wearing No.20 we're going to be very hard to beat. If he's the 20th chosen player in your squad, you're a tough footy team.

"I'm so happy to be able to reward him."

With Saifiti joining injured Panthers pair Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai on the sidelines, the Blues are already exploring how they can bring the trio, as well as Jake Trbojevic into camp under strict COVID-19 restrictions.

Has Freddy made the right halves call?

The first NSW clean sweep in 21 years sits ripe for the taking, with Fittler long being a fan of Moses since coaching him with Lebanon at the 2017 World Cup.

Fittler and Blues advisor Greg Alexander took the weekend to watch Moses and the likes of Reynolds and Walker in action, before opting for the Parramatta playmaker in concert with Wighton to steer the side.

Api Koroisau comes in to debut as the Blues bench utility, the first time Fittler has picked a hooker in the role, though the Panthers rake does also have the ability to play in the halves at a pinch.

"There was talk around Cody and Adam," Fittler said.

"I just thought, the disruption [would see] us change pretty much our whole game and nearly want to play like South Sydney.

"They're doing a brilliant job for South Sydney and they seem to be doing it with ease.

"So I felt like there's a few players at the moment that could have come into the position. But I felt like having Mitchell there and bringing Jack into five-eighth was the least disruption going forward."

Blues on the move

Along with Utoikamanu, Melbourne's Nicho Hynes has also had his own rapid rise to prominence, publicly at least, rewarded with a call-up into the Blues reserves list.

This time last year Hynes still had just one NRL game to his name. Now the 25-year-old's stunning ascension, after years of plugging away through NRL and State Cup systems, sees him cap a rich Cronulla deal for next season with Origin honours almost in his grasp.

While Gutherson returns to NSW camp for the first time since the 2020 series loss, Utoikamanu's call into camp is a nod to the future in the same vein as Keaon Koloamatangi's inclusion earlier in the year.

Utoikamanu, 21, has impressed at times in a struggling Tigers side this season having played for NSW at under 20s and 18s levels previously.

NSW Blues

1 James Tedesco (c)

2 Brian To'o
3 Latrell Mitchell
4 Tom Trbojevic
5 Josh Addo-Carr
6 Jack Wighton
7 Mitchell Moses
18 Dale Finucane
9 Damien Cook
10 Junior Paulo
11 Cameron Murray
12 Tariq Sims
13 Isaah Yeo
14 Apisai Koroisau
15 Angus Crichton
16 Payne Haas
17 Liam Martin
19 Nicho Hynes
20 Clint Gutherson
21 Stefano Utoikamanu

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