21/02/2024

Latrell Mitchell scoring a try at NSW Blues training. Photo: nswrl.com.au

The New South Wales Blues have arrived in Townsville ahead of State of Origin game one, and coach Brad Fittler believes his team is ready for the fight

The New South Wales Blues have landed in Townsville ahead of State of Origin game one on Wednesday night.

Blues coach Brad Fittler said the team is excited as their preparation for the game ramps up.

“We’re at the pointy end of the preparation, the exciting end,” he said at a press conference on Monday

“So, it’s about I think holding your cool a little bit now and enjoying being up here with some nice weather.”

The Blues will have three debutants in game one with Penrith Panthers trio Jarome Luai, Brian To’o and Liam Martin suiting up for the first time.

Fittler said that the excitement levels for those players and their families provided a refreshing atmosphere in camp compared to the seriousness that State of Origin preparation typically brings.

“They [the debutants families] came in [Sunday] night and presented their jerseys to the boys, it was very emotional, and it was a great night for the team,” he said.

“Sometimes you need to go and speak to families and see what it means to them because once you’re in the bubble everything becomes so intense and the preparation is all so serious.”

“It was good to see some family last night and get their view on it.”

Fittler’s game plan is simple, and he is aware that Queensland will target their outside defence, but they also have plans to use the strengths of their wingers in attack.

“If we can keep them out of our end, that is the best way to stop them, so that will be the game plan.”

“I’m sure they will have their opportunities, but we also have tactics around using our wingers for what they’re good at as well, so they’ll have their own challenges.”

Even the change in venue from the MCG to Townsville won’t alter Fittler’s game plan drastically with a focus on the players to make the small changes required.

“We speak to the players, they’re the ones that are out there playing, so they notice it more than anyone,” he said.

“We get a lot of their feedback on the stuff they think that works, generally it’s the same thing that works on both fields, but there are minor changes, you can pass a bit further normally and few different things like that.”

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Despite the game still technically being played at a ‘neutral venue’ the last time that Queensland hosted the opening two games of the series was in 1982, and Fittler is aware of how that series played out.

“We didn’t win that series, so we have quite a challenge ahead of us,” he said.

A challenge that won’t be made any easier even if Queensland centre Dane Gagai doesn’t play in the series opener.

Gagai has been managed through the week after contracting tonsilitis, but Fitler believes no matter who plays they will still be formidable opponents.

“If he doesn’t play someone else will and they will do a great job,” he said.

“One thing that is undeniable is that they are very proud of their jumper and they always play their best when they play in that jersey, whoever wears the jersey I am sure will do a good job.”

The Blues five-eighth position was hotly debated in the lead up to the squad being selected.

After experienced playmaker Luke Keary went down with an ACL injury the competition for the position was down to two, Cody Walker and Jarome Luai.

Walker played the final two games in the halves last series as Luai waited in the wings.

After Penrith’s hot start to the year Luai was selected ahead of Walker, and Fittler is confident he will prove his selection to be warranted.

“It’s definitely is a step up in level, but he seems to have the courage when he plays for Penrith to play under pressure,” he said.

“I think that is one thing Nathan [Cleary] and Jarome do very well is when the pressure is on, they seem to get better, and State of Origin is all about that, when it is challenging and tough you really need to step up and show your courage, when it’s easy I think both teams have enough good players to capitalise on that.”

The other bold selection call that Fittler made was to recall Rabbitohs fullback Latrell Mitchell to the squad after missing out on last year’s series.

Fittler is confident that Mitchell has grown both as a player and a person in his time away from the Blues squad and that the public will see that on Wednesday night.

“It’s been a couple of years since he played, so he’s obviously older and a lot of changes have gone on in his life,” he said.

“I think he believes he deserves to be here and so do we.”

“He looks really strong at the moment, both physically and in character and I think that will come out in his footy.”

Fittler will be justified if the Blues can secure a win in the series opener, and take the first step and regaining the State of Origin shield.

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