Brad Fittler had no shortage of options when selecting his playmaking stocks for the Blues’ 27-man Origin squad.
The likes of Cody Walker, Luke Keary, Nathan Cleary, Damien Cook and Jack Wighton are just a few of the creative threats that will look to lift NSW to a series three-peat.
Yet when finalising his squad of 27 on Sunday, one man who was widely tipped to be named but wasn’t became the Blues’ biggest question mark ahead of next Wednesday’s series opener.
Apisai Koroisau was picked out as the NRL’s buy of the season by league great Peter Sterling as he ignited the Panthers’ attack from dummy half on the way to their 17 wins in a row and a grand final appearance.
But instead of becoming the third hooker in Fittler’s squad, a fourth five-eighth was chosen instead, with Koroisau’s junior teammate Jarome Luai becoming the Blues’ biggest bolter.
“Jarome Luai was a surprising one for me, but I think Brad Fittler might have his eye on the future there and is just getting Jarome in to understand what it’s all about,” Johns told Wide World of Sports’ The Blueprint.
“He’s is a lot better player than I gave him credit for at the start of the year. I thought Matt Burton should be five-eighth (for Penrith) but jeez I was wrong there, he is some player.
“Not only does he have a lot of energy, but he’s really smart with the ball in his hands. Quick and agile, and a great combination on that left edge with Stephen Crichton which may be the future of the Blues.”
Fittler has made no secret of his love for Luai’s zest both on and off the park, and it’s a trait that Sharks great Paul Gallen believes could tip the scales NSW’s way off the back of a lengthy season.
“I think Luai is there for more experience,” Gallen told Wide World of Sports’ The Blueprint.
“They’ve got some pretty experienced five-eighths in front of him, but I also think he’s there for energy in the camp. Freddy spoke on Sunday about the energy that he brings to the Panthers camp and what he does in and around of training.
“I think Freddy will want some of that, it’s maybe what Freddy was like as a kid, I’m not too sure but I think he’s just going to bring a whole lot of energy to training and that’s what Freddy is going to need.
“Particularly, come that second or third game, it’s been a really long year with 20 odd straight weeks for some of them, and three straight origin games is going to be pretty tough so to have someone like Luai in the camp, keeping everyone’s spirits up, having the energy levels high at training, I think that’s what he’s there for.”
While he plays a completely different position to Koroisau, Luai’s selection ultimately cost his Panthers teammate his shot at an Origin debut, in competition with Cameron McInnes as the back-up to first choice hooker Cook.
Gallen said two hookers was enough for a three-match campaign, adding that Fittler simply didn’t have the one extra spot to fit Koroisau in.
“I think so [there was no room for Api],” Gallen said.
“They picked four five-eighths. You could possibly throw Walker in at No.9 if he was on the bench. You could probably put him there for an amount of time, and also Cam Murray can play there as well.
“So, there are plenty of options there for the Blues. But generally, Cook plays 80 minutes anyway so you don’t want to be changing unless he was injured.”
Johns agreed, and said McInnes possessed more value in his versatility than Koroisau.
“We’ve seen him [McInnes] this year play a running lock (role) when Ben Hunt when to dummy half, and he was one of their best players,” Johns said.
“He’s really popular amongst the players, a great fella, just rips in and is as tough as they come. So, with Origin this year being back-to-back over three successive weeks, you reckon pretty much everyone in that squad may get a game, depending on how tough the games are.
“He’s a perfect benchy. He can play dummy half, can play anywhere in the forwards.”
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