Blues v Maroons: Freddy rings changes; Taulagi to debut

With the series on the line, Blues coach Brad Fittler has recalled a couple of familiar faces and handed debuts to Matt Burton and Siosifa Talakai as they look to square things up in Perth.

Manly warhorse Jake Trbojevic and Rooster Angus Crichton are back in the fold with an eye to curbing the Maroons' dominance around the ruck, while Burton's towering bombs offer a second kicking option to relieve pressure on key playmaker Nathan Cleary.

For the Maroons, the loss of Xavier Coates and Reuben Cotter to injury sees in-form Cowboy Murray Taulagi come in on the wing for his Origin debut and Rabbitohs hard-man Jai Arrow recalled to the squad after missing Game Three last year for disciplinary reasons.

The Blues will take some solace from the fact they hammered Queensland 38-6 in 2019 in the only Origin game played at Optus Stadium but Billy Slater's men have history on their side after winning the opener and will be full of confidence after a titanic defensive display in Sydney.

Fittler has enjoyed great success since taking the helm in 2019 but defeat in Perth would mean Queensland have won two of the past three series and give Slater a dream start to his Origin coaching career.

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There were no changes for Brad Fittler on Saturday when the squad was trimmed to 19. Nicho Hynes is again 18th Man and Jordan McLean is the reserve.

With Jack Wighton unavailable for due to Covid protocols, Bulldogs five-eighth Matt Burton has been called into the squad at centre, a position he handled with ease during the Panthers' 2021 premiership charge. He lines up alongside former team-mate Stephen Crichton, who has been promoted from the bench to starting centre with Kotoni Staggs overlooked.

Manly workhorse Jake Trbojevic's omission from Game One caused plenty of debate but he returns for his 14th Origin, along with Angus Crichton, who was part of series wins in 2018, '19 and '21 but was overlooked for the opener in Sydney. Cronulla powerhouse Siosifa Talakai is poised to make his Origin debut on a new-look Blues bench alongside  Crichton, Junior Paulo and hooker Damien Cook, who has been replaced in the starting line-up by premiership-winning Panther Api Koroisau.

The other new faces in the squad are Victor Radley, Clint Gutherson and McLean. Forwards Ryan Matterson, Tariq Sims and Reagan Campbell-Gillard all lost their places in the team.




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No changes on Saturday when the squad was trimmed to 19. Thomas Dearden is 18th Man.

The Maroons have been forced into a couple of changes after Reuben Cotter hurt his hamstring during warm-up for the Cowboys' game against Manly last Friday and Xavier Coates suffered an ankle injury in Game One. Cowboys winger Murray Taulagi comes into the starting side after he was part of the extended squad in Sydney while back-rower Jai Arrow returns to the squad. A former Queensland under-20s and Junior Kangaroos player, Taulagi will become the seventh Cowboy to be involved in Origin this year with teammates Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Valentine Holmes, Tom Dearden, Jeremiah Nanai and Cotter all featuring in the squad for Game One and Jordan McLean joining the NSW squad for Perth. Broncos Thomas Flegler and Corey Oates have been added to the wider squad along with Titans forward Beau Fermor and Warriors fullback Reece Walsh. 




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Key Match-up
Jarome Luai v Cameron Munster
The Blues No.6 needs to find a way to take some heat off Nathan Cleary, who was hounded by the Maroons kick pressure in Sydney and took a pounding. The addition of Matt Burton adds another kicking option but Luai is the man closest to the action and the time has come for him to stamp his authority on the Origin arena just as his opposing five-eighth Munster did in Game One. The Maroons maestro was at his instinctive best, tormenting the Blues defence with his running game and kicking expertly when required. If Munster is allowed to roam free again he will punish the Blues and the Origin shield will be headed back to Queensland. If Luai can find his mojo and set the Blues backs in motion with some trademark dashes then we could be headed for a decider in Brisbane on July 13.

Stat Attack
There have been 124 matches played since the State of Origin concept began with a one-off game at Lang Park on July 8, 1980. The ledger stands at 66 wins to Queensland, 56 to NSW and two draws. The Maroons have won 22 series to the Blues' 16 with two drawn in 1999 and 2002.

Queensland's Lindsay Collins and Pat Carrigan combined for 31 runs and 316 metres off the bench in Game One as they provided maximum impact when called on by Billy Slater. Blues bench forwards Liam Martin, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Ryan Matterson could muster only 214 metres from 27 runs.




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