New South Wales selectors have hit the panic button in making seven changes to a side which lost State of Origin Game 1 by just four points. It would be nice to say the move is unprecedented, but it seems almost every other year the Blues discard quality players in their never-ending search for the magical line-up that will conquer the Maroons.
The most surprising selection move this time has been the dropping of Latrell Mitchell. The star Roosters centre found out on his 22nd birthday that he wouldn't be on the plane to Perth for Game 2. At his best, as he was for the Roosters just a month or so ago, Mitchell is the most destructive attacking and defensive centre in the game. He clearly had an ordinary game in Brisbane, and coach Brad Fittler said he was really disappointed in his effort.
"The biggest (factor) was we had expectations up at Suncorp and he didn't meet those expectations," Fittler said.
"We really need our players to work hard for each other and, at the end of the day, Queensland wanted it more than us which is a bit of a shame.
"Latrell, he's a bit of a consequence of that."
Adding to the shock of Mitchell's dropping, is the fact that he and centre partner Josh Morris have been dumped for two players who have rarely stepped into the role at club or representative level. Jack Wighton has mostly played fullback or five-eighth, while Tom Trbojevic is a world class fullback who has played on the wing only when James Tedesco is ahead of him.
Morris was close to being the Blues' best player in Game 1 and was dropped simply because Fittler felt that Trbojevic had to come into the starting team and had to play on the same side of the field that Morris calls home.
Nick Cotric's injury seemed to most people to be the perfect opening for the return of Trbojevic, but into that void comes the enigmatic Blake Ferguson. Ferguson is a player who has proven countless times at representative and club level that he is just as likely to lose you a game as he is to win one. The phrase "rocks and diamonds" was surely coined after watching a Ferguson performance.
At his best Ferguson is a destructive runner who makes plenty of metres coming out of trouble and can finish a backline movement with the skill of the greatest, low-flying wingers. At his worst he is a bumbling, handling error waiting to happen and it usually happens at the most inopportune time.
Ferguson lost his place in the Blues team as part of Fittler's 2018 pre-series clean-out. Fittler announced that the new Blues squad would be free of distractions, that players who had previously caused more headlines off the field wouldn't be included in the squad. It seems all has been forgiven in the case of Ferguson.
James Maloney makes his return to the side with Fittler joking that he was the only five-eighth option left standing, following the weekend injury to Mitchell Pearce. Cody Walker played in the Blues No. 6 jersey in Brisbane and managed to survive the Rabbitohs loss to the Panthers on the weekend. Fittler's joke could only have added salt to the wounds of Walker's dumping. Fittler took Walker from the field in Game 1, as he felt he was struggling to get involved, and there will be no Game 2 for Walker to improve on that debut effort.
Maloney and Nathan Cleary were the halves that brought success to New South Wales in 2018. They were both struggling for form at Penrith ahead of Game 1 and Maloney's omission was not surprising. That the selectors through Cleary could handle the halfback role without Maloney was probably more surprising and his ordinary performance in Game 1 seemed to prove that he still needs someone more experienced alongside him. Injuries to many of the alternative halves sees these two reunited.
The injury to David Klemmer was always going to cause the greatest of concern for the selectors. Klemmer was the forward leader for the Blues and it was only once he was on the bench that the momentum began to swing towards the Maroons in Brisbane. The stocks of New South Welshmen playing prop forward have never been lower, so the naming of Daniel Saifiti can only come with the best of wishes to a debutant stepping into such a tough and vital role.
On the bench Angus Crichton has lost his seat after an unspectacular performance in Brisbane. This time last year Crichton was the bright young future of the Blues pack. Now Cameron Murray will have assume that role as he is joined by seasoned veterans Tariq Sims, Dale Finucane and Wade Graham.
Finucane's selection has been met by applause from all fronts, as clearly he is a player that has been crying out for selection for years. When he performs to his usual high standards in Perth, the selectors will be asked why they have been unable to see his obvious merits for so long.
Graham's selection after playing a total of 87 minutes since returning from a knee reconstruction, reeks of desperation. Graham, at his best, was a great addition to the New South Wales side during his four Origin appearances. His versatility and attacking gifts on the edge of the ruck made him the perfect bench player for the Blues. To throw him into a must-win Origin game after such a short time back in the game is simply asking too much of any player.
Fittler and his selectors are also asking a lot of Blues fans by presenting them with this team. Everyone was on board when they named eleven debutants at the beginning of last year's series. The baby Blues were set to begin a new era of competitiveness with the depleted Maroons. There were a lot of scarred and battle weary players swept from the team, which was accepted as necessary in the establishment of a new Origin order.
Just one year later, New South Wales lose the series opener, and the selectors throw the babies out with the bath water.