2020 vision: Why Fittler focused on versatility and ball-playing talent

“Pass. Pass. Pass.”

That is the word Brad Fittler most commonly screams at the television when he is watching an NRL game on his lounge.

Therefore, it should come as little surprise that the NSW coach has chosen a team loaded with ball-playing talent and versatility for next Wednesday night’s opening State of Origin encounter.

Fittler has been stewing over the disappointment of his first series defeat since taking charge of the Blues in 2018 for six months, and planning for every contingency after losing Boyd Cordner, Cameron Murray and James Tedesco during Origin matches last year.

The side selected for Origin I in Townsville has versatility and strike across the park, with three of the game’s superstar fullbacks – Tedesco, Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell – in the backline and a trio of leading locks – Murray, Jake Trbojevic and Isaah Yeo – in the forwards.

Gone are the days when NSW would pick the likes of Beau Scott at centre for the sole purpose of countering Greg Inglis. Before Inglis, it was Mal Meninga or Gene Miles that the Blues tried to stop.

Instead, it is now Queensland who will be hoping to contain Trbojevic and Mitchell by naming Penrith’s Kurt Capewell in the centres.

However, the best indication of the type of expansive game that the Blues will look to adopt is the selection of Jake Trbojevic at prop and ball-playing front-rowers Junior Paulo and Payne Haas on the interchange.

The bench also includes Jack Wighton, who can play any position in the backline but is most likely to be used as a roving back-rower, as hooker Damien Cook is only likely to come from the field if he is injured.

Fittler has a contingency plan for that too, with the choice of Penrith hooker Api Koroisau as 18th man ahead of a utility player like Clint Gutherson or Jack Bird being a strategic selection.

“I’ve always loved people passing the ball,” Fittler said. “I know that we dwell on completions and they have such a big bearing on the game but to be able to pass the ball, and complete, is the real weapon.

“I sit there and watch games of footy and the only thing that comes out of my mouth normally is, ‘pass, pass, pass’. They don’t a lot but we have got good players in Origin, so you want to see a good brand of footy.”

Jake Trbojevic is considered a playmaker in a forward’s body, while Paulo is one of the best exponents of the off-load in the NRL and Haas also has the ability to create an attacking opportunity for his team by slipping a pass in a tackle.

Haas, who is confident of overcoming a knee injury to take his place in the NSW squad, said he was excited about the adventurous style the Blues are expected to employ in the series opener on June 9 at Townsville’s Queensland Country Bank Stadium.

“I think if we've got it, why not use it,” Haas said. “I'd love to see us throwing the ball around.

“We've got strong ball-runners like Latrell and Teddy who can play off the back and through the middle if we get those passes going.

“And I think some of the forwards can take some pressure off the halves. It could give them a bit more time and space if we can get some passes going in the middle.”

Jake Trbojevic added: “The style of footy has changed with the way the game has gone so I guess he has picked a team for that."