Tevita Pangai will debut for NSW in State of Origin I after Jake Trbojevic’s problematic calf prompted the Manly star to rule himself out of the series opener.
Trbojevic looked set to be picked for the May 31 clash in Adelaide before reporting calf soreness in his NRL comeback game on Sunday afternoon.
That prompted a last-minute change of plan for NSW coach Brad Fittler, calling Pangai into the squad as one of three debutants alongside Cronulla’s Nicho Hynes and Canberra’s Hudson Young.
Fittler has stuck with Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary in the halves, and made the bold call to leave Damien Cook out of the squad for the first time in his tenure.
Apisai Koroisau will act as the sole hooker and be expected to go 80 minutes, leaving room for Hynes to debut off the bench.
Cook was expected to win the No.9 jersey and add to his 15 consecutive Origin games before Koroisau’s Saturday night performance for Wests Tigers got him over the line.
Koroisau’s combination with Luai, Cleary and lock Isaah Yeo from his three years at Penrith is also viewed as a key advantage for the Blues.
Tom Trbojevic and Josh Addo-Carr are both selected at centre and on the wing respectively, leaving Campbell Graham as the odd man out and named as 18th man.
There had been concerns over both Trbojevic and Addo-Carr’s fitness, but Trbojevic blew those away with a hat-trick of tries against Canberra on Sunday.
Addo-Carr also got through his return game for Canterbury unscathed, five weeks after syndesmosis surgery.
Liam Martin has also been picked off limited game time this year, with the two-time Penrith premiership-winner expected to start in the second row.
Tyson Frizell’s Origin exile is over after he was recalled, and he is expected to play off the bench with the ability to play on the edge or through the middle.
Young will join him as a backrower in the 17-man squad, after being one of the rising stars of the competition at Canberra in the past 18 months.
NSW (in alphabetical order): Josh Addo-Carr, Nathan Cleary, Tyson Frizell, Payne Haas, Nicho Hynes, Apisai Koroisau, Jarome Luai, Liam Martin, Latrell Mitchell, Cameron Murray, Tevita Pangai, Junior Paulo, James Tedesco (capt), Brian To’o, Tom Trbojevic, Isaah Yeo, Hudson Young. 18th man: Campbell Graham.