Fittler picks five rookies as Origin nightmare continues

Brad Fittler will wait until early in camp before outlining a plan for Tyson Frizell's return to the training paddock as a heavy concussion for the Dragons enforcer added one final dramatic twist to his nightmare State of Origin selection.

Fittler pinned his faith in embattled halfback Nathan Cleary to lead the Blues at Suncorp Stadium after naming five rookies for the series opener next month.

Fittler had already lost halves certainty Luke Keary to concussion only 48 hours earlier and dashed to the St George Illawarra sheds at half-time of their 22-9 loss to the Sharks at WIN Stadium on Sunday after Frizell was involved in a sickening head clash with ex-teammate Josh Dugan.

"I went down and talked to Friz at half-time and he wanted to go back on," Fittler said. "He had that silly smile on his face and I didn’t know if he was talking to me. I think he’s OK. We’ll just follow protocol and I’m not sure when he can train. But we’ll work that out [at the start of the week]."


It was just another blow for Fittler after a horror injury weekend as he lost a slew of halves contenders fell by the wayside.

Cody Walker will partner Cleary in the halves while Nick Cotric, Payne Haas, Jack Wighton and Cameron Murray will all make their NSW debuts – just a year after Fittler blooded a record 11 players in the opening game of last year's series.

Mitchell Pearce (groin) and Adam Reynolds (leg) were injured during the weekend's round and Fittler acknowledged Reynolds' leg problem on Saturday night finally tipped the halfback scales in Cleary's favour.

Reynolds was cleared of a lower leg fracture on Sunday.

"I wanted to pick Nathan – I wanted to pick all the team from last year – it doesn’t seem to be the case," Fittler said. "It was hard not to look at the Souths combination how well they’ve been playing.

"Nathan, what he did on Thursday night, was an awesome effort considering what they’re going through. I think Nathan’s game’s sometimes easier to play because it’s all based on effort. He just tries so hard.


"Sometimes it gets a bit complicated out there and it has at different times as the team is not working together every well …. but the backbone of him is chasing every kick, making every tackle and just trying to do what he can. That can’t be said about every player. He’s quite rare being like that.

"Any chance I get to pick him in a footy team I’m very glad."

The 21-year-old has been far from his best this season for the struggling Panthers, but produced a man of the match display in Penrith's turgid win over the Eels last Thursday night. It was just Penrith's third win of the season.

The host of 11th hour withdrawals weren't enough for Cleary's halves partner James Maloney to preserve his place, falling down the pecking order behind Keary and Walker.

Maloney, James Roberts, Tariq Sims and Tyrone Peachey were all axed from the side that played for the Blues in game three last year.

Jack de Belin is unavailable after being sidelined under the NRL's no-fault stand-down rule as he faces an aggravated sexual assault charge. He has pleaded not guilty.

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Fittler's stress-free build-up to last year's series hasn't been replicated in 2019 with a host of incumbents struggling for form before a nightmare weekend on the injury front which ended with the Frizell scare.

"We definitely have to win the series," Fittler said. "We’ve got a lot of ground to catch up so anything other than a win will be failure."

Sharks veteran Josh Morris, 32, earned a recall after last playing Origin in 2016 and will man the right centre spot alongside Cotric, who will play on the right flank.

Broncos teenager Haas, 19, will train throughout the entire NSW cap during Ramadan, the annual Muslim observance of fasting during daylight hours. It will finish just a day before game one.

NSW team for Origin I

1 James Tedesco (Roosters)

2 Josh Addo-Carr (Storm)

3 Latrell Mitchell (Roosters)

4 Josh Morris (Sharks)

5 Nick Cotric (Raiders)

6 Cody Walker (Rabbitohs)

7 Nathan Cleary (Panthers)

8 David Klemmer (Knights)

9 Damien Cook (Rabbitohs)

10 Paul Vaughan (Dragons)

11 Boyd Cordner (Roosters)

12 Tyson Frizell (Dragons)

13 Jake Trbojevic (Sea Eagles)

14 Jack Wighton (Raiders)

15 Payne Haas (Broncos)

16 Cameron Murray (Rabbitohs)

17 Angus Crichton (Roosters)