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Fittler has been a long-time Pangai Junior fan

Westpac NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler said the intimidation factor was one of the keys to naming Tevita Pangai Junior in his Ampol State of Origin team for Game One in Adelaide next week.

While some might think Pangai Junior’s selection was left field, Fittler has been an admirer for several years.

“I’m looking forward to getting to know him. He came down to an Emerging (Blues) squad a couple of years ago – I’ve always thought he was very talented,” Fittler said.

“Honestly, I’ve liked him for a while. I could see that teams are intimidated by him.

“I think at times he hasn’t handled that well either, but I’ve just always liked him. He’s super talented.

“It’s been about getting to that next level of control and showing leadership.”

The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs’ prop was one of three debutants named by Fittler today, when he finalised his 17 for the match at Adelaide Oval. The other two are Canberra Raiders back-rower Hudson Young and Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks halfback Nicho Hynes, who is on the bench.

The difficult phone calls for Fittler included South Sydney Rabbitohs hooker Damien Cook and  Sydney Roosters forward Angus Crichton.

“They’ve been part of the squad for a while, but they’ll be available in the future,” he said.

Injured players that weren’t considered included Parramatta’s Ryan Matterson (calf) and Reagan Campbell-Gillard (groin), and Manly Warringah’s Jake Trbojevic (calf).

Rabbitohs centre Campbell Graham was forced to withdraw from the initial 18-man squad with a sternum injury.

Fittler opted for one hooker – Wests Tigers rake Api Koroisau.

“It was always going to be tight on whether we played two hookers. You sort of weigh it up at the end and talk to people who watch the game… Cookie is going so well which made it such a hard decision.

“At the end of the day we went with Api – it was a tough call.

“But they are both now 31, so it’s getting to that stage where players like Reece Robson and Blayke Brailey need to start putting their hand up and playing consistently not just good, but great.”

Fittler said he had a few options, and Hynes would be among them.

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New South Wales Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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