Brad Fittler is aiming to capitalise on Cody Walker's running game and ensure his forwards make a greater impact after dropping Luke Keary and calling Nathan Brown, Isaah Yeo and Dale Finucane onto the bench.
Fittler reacted to Wednesday night’s 18-14 loss to Queensland by promoting Walker from the interchange in place of Keary and selecting four forwards on the bench, including Junior Paulo, who has been replaced in the starting line-up by Payne Haas.
Besides Keary being dropped from the 17 - he has been selected among the reserves in the 21-man squad - Fittler has been forced into two changes with captain Boyd Cordner (concussion) and interchange forward Cameron Murray (hamstring) ruled out of Wednesday night’s must-win clash at ANZ Stadium.
Angus Crichton moves from the interchange to start at left second-rower in place of Cordner, while star fullback James Tedesco takes over the NSW captaincy for the first time.
Brown and Yeo will make their debuts from the bench, while Finucane has been recalled after missing the Ampol State of Origin series opener at Adelaide Oval.
Brown, the Parramatta lock, will add menace to the Blues forwards, while Penrith's Yeo can play in the middle or as an edge backrower to provide cover for Tyson Frizell and Crichton.
Parramatta prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard, St George Illawarra captain Cameron McInnes, Penrith centre Stephen Crichton and Keary are the reserves.
The changes follow concerns that the Blues forwards were outmuscled in the middle of the field, particularly after losing Murray midway through the first half, while Keary and halfback Nathan Cleary did not run the ball enough compared to their Maroons counterparts.
According to NRL.com Stats, Maroons skipper Daly Cherry-Evans ran the ball 18 times for a total of 163 metres and made three tackle breaks, while halves partner Cameron Munster ran 11 times for a combined 114 metres and made four tackles.
Cleary made eight runs for 61 metres and Keary ran the ball 11 times for a combined 103 metres, while they each made one tackle break.
There was a greater disparity in the pass-to-run ratio for each of the playmakers:
- Cherry-Evans - 2.17
- Munster – 2.82
- Keary – 4.09
- Cleary – 6.5
In contrast, NSW were at their most dangerous after Walker entered the fray for the last 19 minutes of the match and his pass-to-run ratio was 1.5, with the South Sydney five-eighth running the ball six times for a total of 58 metres.
"We looked our best when we were chasing the game instead of taking it to the Queenslanders as back-to-back series winners," NRL.com analyst and former NSW five-eighth Jamie Soward said.
"Every time that Cherry-Evans and Munster got the ball they were a threat and what that does is brings into the game the people around you.
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"If Cleary plays like the Cleary that we saw in the last 10 minutes of the grand final it allows Tyson Frizell to cross-play or get some early ball and pass because he knows that his half is running the ball and confident.
"I thought that we didn’t see that until the game was almost gone and we were chasing it. In Origin you have to play each set for what it is and Munster and Cherry-Evans were playing within the structures but ad lib as well."
Fellow NRL.com panellist and former NSW playmaker Brett Kimmorley agreed.
"Both Munster and Cherry-Evans are more running halves compared to the NSW halves. I am not sure in Origin if it is about the shape and the structure too much – it is just flat and fast," Kimmorley said.
The top tackles from Origin I
"In the first half I thought we created five or six try-scoring opportunities but we only scored two of them so I thought they asked some questions and challenged the defence but in the second half we had no field position.
"That wasn’t so much through a lack of execution but the desperation of the defence. Queensland only had three opportunities to score and they came up with three tries."
Soward also said the loss of Murray, who played just five minutes after coming on as a replacement when Cordner was taken from the field for a HIA, had been “understated” as Fittler was unable to use Jake Trbokevic as a ball-playing front-rower.
With Murray replacing Cordner in the 18th minute and then limping from the field in the 23rd minute, Paulo and fellow prop Daniel Saifiti were not spelled until the 28th and 33rd minute respectively.
Saifiti was the most dominant of the NSW middle forwards, carrying the ball for 157 metres in 18 runs during two stints that totalled 54 minutes.
Cordner, who returned just before half-time after passing an HIA, was the only other Blues forward to run more than 100 metres.
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Paulo carried the ball for 59 metres from six runs, while Haas had seven runs for 61 metres in a 25-minute stint from the bench.
In comparison, Josh Papalii (109m), Tino Faasuamaleaui (128m), Lindsay Collins (120m), Jai Arrow (102m) and Felise Kaufusi (111m) all ran more than 100 metres with the ball for the Maroons.
"Going into the game I thought NSW had a lot of points in them whereas for so long when we were losing, we had a defensive mindset," Soward said.
"That’s what made the loss worse because we put ourselves in a position to win. Having played against those great Queensland sides, you had to beat them whereas we looked at stages during the game like we were the team coming off two series losses."
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