Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler has welcomed the re-entry of the Pacific Tests into the Rugby League calendar and doesn’t see it conflicting with his Origin preparations.
That is mainly because the scheduled 25 June Tests – New Zealand v Tonga; Samoa v Cook Islands; PNG v Fiji – fall after the 2022 Ampol State of Origin series opener on 8 June at Accor Stadium.
Last year’s NSW squad had several players with proud Polynesian heritage including Jarome Luai, Brian To’o, Junior Paulo, Daniel Saifiti, and Tariq Sims.
This year Cronulla’s Siosifa Talakai, who has Tongan parents, is making a strong claim for Origin inclusion with his barnstorming performances at left centre for the Sharks.
Talakai is eligible for the Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues and the Australian Kangaroos but Fittler is not looking beyond Round 12, when he will name his squad for the Sydney game.
“At the moment for Game One, I am choosing out of the full range of possible Blues players,” Fittler told nswrl.com.au.
“There’s been no decision made about Game Two and I’ve not spoken to any (Pacific-heritage) players.
“I am totally concentrating on Game One.”
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Fittler acknowledged that many NRL players would want to be a part of the mid-season Test series, especially in light of the Tongan tsunami, to show solidarity with their Pacific Island nations.
These fixtures are also important with the 2022 World Cup on the horizon as PNG, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Cook Islands have all qualified for the October-November tournament.
“When Round 14 comes around and I’m finalising the team for Game Two, there might be some other considerations in play,” Fittler said.
“And that includes not only the Pacific Tests but what the COVID situation is, and the challenges that could present, plus if there are any injuries.
“The size of my squad, and the personnel in it, might be different.”