The changes NSW are considering to save the Origin series

NSW coach Brad Fittler is being urged to promote Stephen Crichton to the Blues’ starting side – leaving Kotoni Staggs’ place in doubt – as part of changes to help square the State of Origin series in Perth.

The debate about how NSW would use Crichton from the bench in game one might have a fresh twist, with the Penrith centre in the mix for a starting spot despite an indifferent 28-minute cameo at Accor Stadium.

While Staggs has pledged he wants to play for NSW despite being named in Tonga’s squad for the mid-season Test against New Zealand, Fittler has been toying with the prospect of naming Crichton at right centre.

The grand final winner will have his final audition when the table-topping Panthers play the Warriors in Brisbane on Saturday.

Crichton was charged for a dangerous throw on Cameron Munster – a tackle he made only moments after he came on for his Origin debut – and then had the ball stolen by the Queensland magician at another crucial second-half juncture.

The Blues will head to Perth trying to save the series.Credit:Getty Images

But the Blues’ brains trust is aware he could form a potent combination with Nathan Cleary on the right-hand side, while more importantly being familiar defending alongside the NSW No.7 from their time spent together at Penrith.

It will also allow the Blues to pick another utility on the bench, with Cronulla’s Nicho Hynes pushing for an Origin debut after being 18th man in Sydney.

Canterbury’s Matt Burton has also been discussed as a left-field option after Ryan Papenhuyzen’s COVID-19 diagnosis, and Burton will have the final shot in the Bulldogs’ clash with the Tigers on Sunday afternoon.

Fittler will resist making mass changes for the trip across the Nullarbor, with Josh Addo-Carr’s name firmly being discussed for a recall despite a commendable game-one performance from Daniel Tupou.

Queensland stars Cameron Munster, Kalyn Ponga and Felise Kaufusi celebrate their game-one win.Credit:Getty

Queensland winger Xavier Coates will miss the rest of the series with a syndesmosis injury, meaning Queensland coach Billy Slater is poised to go with the shorter Murray Taulagi or Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow on Tupou’s wing.

Addo-Carr has enjoyed success at Optus Stadium, having scored a double in NSW’s thumping game-two win to level the series in 2019. The Blues secured the series in the last seconds of the decider back in Sydney.

Jake Trbojevic is on the cusp of an Origin recall after being controversially overlooked for game one.

Fittler will name his game two-side on Sunday night before leaving for Perth on Monday, and there is no doubt about the left-centre position after Jack Wighton’s brutal performance at Accor Stadium.

‘I can only do one job. I felt confident with them and I loved working with them. [Fittler] puts me there because he trusts me.’

“I was there to do a job and if I get picked in that position and people are upset at it, that’s out of my control,” Wighton said. “I can only do one job. I felt confident with them and I loved working with them. [Fittler] puts me there because he trusts me.”

But what other areas does Fittler desperately need to address?

Ruck speed

Trbojevic will help. Fittler was none too impressed with Queensland’s meddling in the ruck, thinking referee Ashley Klein let them escape with too much in game one. stats claim the Maroons had a faster average play-the-ball speed (3.22 seconds) than the Blues (3.4), who surrendered control through the middle.

Queensland’s Jeremiah Nanai upends NSW’s Ryan Matterson.Credit:Getty

“It didn’t feel like that at all, to be honest,” Queensland hooker Ben Hunt said. “I’m sure it felt the same for them. Especially that first 20 minutes when I was out there, it just flew by in that time. It never felt like either team could get a grasp on it. It felt like a game of basketball from one end to the other. That’s what it felt like.

“We could have been holding them down a bit more, but I don’t know. It didn’t really feel like that to me.”

How will NSW protect Cleary?

Even without Christian Welch, the Maroons made Cleary’s last-tackle options a nightmare all night.

But NSW will be ruing one key oversight: where was his protection?

The controversial blocker, which was front and centre of last year’s finals series, was only sparingly used by the Blues, possibly because Isaah Yeo spent more time off the field than usual after his first-tackle collision with Josh Papalii.

An extra kicking option in the form of a utility such as Hynes or Burton will alleviate that stress on Cleary, who kicked 20 times compared to just two from Jarome Luai in the series opener.

Daly Cherry-Evans (13), Cameron Munster (nine) and Ben Hunt (two) shared the role for Queensland.

Do the Blues need to change their style of play?

Phil Gould said the Blues’ style of play was “too Pantherised” in game one. In his words, it’s fine to pick the best players from the NRL’s best team, but you need a little extra than just club plays to be able to combat an Origin rival.

Even down to NSW’s scrum moves, there were Penrith fingerprints all over the Blues’ plan.

Cleary would feed the scrum and then circle the back to create an extra man on the left, but the set piece didn’t have joy against a well-prepared Queensland like it does for the Panthers at NRL level.

“But I don’t feel like [NSW is] on the back foot,” Hunt said. “It was a very close game. We just happened to come out on top. Going into game two, they’re going to be extremely desperate and they’ll have a week in camp. They’ll come out fighting. We’ve got to expect they’re going to be at their absolute best.”

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