NSW coach Brad Fittler has challenged his players to fill the void left by the departure of Queensland greats Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk and become the next group of Origin superstars.
After blooding 11 State of Origin newcomers in last season’s series win, Fittler has named five more Blues debutants for next Wednesday night’s opening match at Suncorp Stadium.
The Maroons will also field a new look team captained by Daly Cherry-Evans, which includes fullback sensation Kalyn Ponga and three debutants in Joe Ofahengaue, Moses Mbye and David Fifita.
“That group of Queenslanders is now gone and I think everyone is saying who are going to be the next superstars,” Fittler said after NSW’s first training session of the series on Tuesday.
“There seemed to be a feeling that when those blokes go Origin would die but it feels like it has kicked again. If anything the interest has kicked again, and you now have the Pongas and [James] Tesdesco and all these superstars coming through.
“Origin feels like it is at a point. I think everyone is a little bit surprised at how strong their team looks, they are in a lot of form and I just feel like one side could make a statement or some players could make a statement.”
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Fittler wants those players to be wearing sky blue jerseys and he believes there is an opportunity for NSW to assert dominance after last season ending Queensland’s run of 11 series wins in 12 years.
What made the Queensland team so great was the consistent performances of their big names stars at representative and club level.
“That is what we try to get our players to be like,” Fittler said.
“If you want to be great at Origin you have got to go back and be great at club level as well.
“If we have a group of players who do that that will pick the whole level of State of Origin players up. They have got the opportunity to test themselves under pressure and then they have to go back to their clubs and re-do that and hopefully get another shot in Origin II.
“It is now up to them to do that week-in and week-out, which they are doing at the moment.”
The new faces in the NSW team have all been in good form, with Cody Walker and Cameron Murray playing for the table-topping Rabbitohs, Jack Wighton and Nick Cotric having been selected from the fifth-placed Raiders and Brisbane’s Payne Haas being arguably the Telstra Premiership’s leading prop.
Fittler said the NSW players had the opportunity to inspire a generation of kids to play the game if they could continue the success of last season.
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“Getting our kids playing that’s the key and the best way to do it is to have heroes,” he said.
“To be a hero you have got to get out and handle pressure, you have got to get out and deal with it, you have got to excel and play tough. That is what the kids demand of their heroes.
“There was a few last year and they have got to get out and do it again. Having the facilities we have got now and what we are learning about giving them good rest, the players are able to keep providing and their effort levels are incredible.
“Obviously they are pretty emotional about why they are playing and while the effort levels are so high people will always be interested because it is a tough game, it is so hard. Throw that in with a lot of effort and blokes just doing whatever they can out there, it is pretty good to watch.”
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Meanwhile, Gerard Sutton and Ashley Klein have been appointed to referee the opening Holden State of Origin clash at Suncorp Stadium on June 5.
The referees appointments committee also selected Chris Butler and Nick Beashel as touch judges for the match, while Jared Maxwell (Senior Review Official) and Ben Galea (Review Official) will operate the NRL Bunker.
The match will be Sutton’s 14th consecutive State of Origin match, dating back to Game Three in 2014, while it will be Klein’s sixth Origin match, Beashel’s 10th and Butler’s fifth.
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