by Murray Wenzel, AAP Gold Coast
No longer armed with the element of surprise, Billy Slater is banking on consistency to counter NSW’s hectic response at the selection table ahead of State of Origin II.
Slater will debut North Queensland winger Murray Taulagi in Perth on Sunday and welcome back Jai Arrow from the Origin wilderness, his only changes forced by injury to Xavier Coates and Reuben Cotter respectively.
Conversely, Brad Fittler’s 17 is expected to feature five new faces, the Blues coach conceding he needed a tactical rethink after his side was outpointed by debutant Slater in a 16-10 Sydney boilover.
Beaten in the battle of the ruck and unable to match the Maroons’ bench impact, the Blues will add hooker Api Koroisau, as well as Sharks enforcer Siosifa Talakai and Roosters forward Angus Crichton to their reserves.
Two new centres will feature in Perth while prop Jake Trbojevic has also been recalled, in a response from Fittler which has stirred memories of 2019, when his seven changes after a Game 1 loss helped orchestrate a 2-1 series win.
Slater dead-batted suggestions Fittler had panicked. He also avoided answering if he’d discuss ruck speed with officials, given it was a sore point of Fittler’s after Sydney.
“I don’t know what they’re thinking,” he said of NSW’s selections.
“That’s (the ruck) a part of the game you want to win, with or without the footy.”
Fittler claimed there were 70 more play-the-balls in the series opener compared to the NRL game average, and was left concerned after Queensland were crucially able to control the speed of the play-the-ball while defending.
“I thought the game was played at really quick speeds,” Slater said.
“Well above NRL speed and an entertaining game; you want to play fast with the football, you want to play slow without it.
“My priority is getting our players to play their best football. The ref’s have their job, I’ll be focusing on my job.”
Slater’s bench manoeuvres also caught the Blues out, with hooker Harry Grant and forward Pat Carrigan dominating through the middle 60 minutes after earlier-than-expected entries.
“There is a challenge for all of us to back it up, me included,” Slater said of the predicted response.
“It was a great game; I went home afterwards and sat on the couch and watched the build-up and the game as a Queenslander.
“It just brings so much emotion and anticipation to the lounge room.
“Even watching on replay I was emotional and in the moment and it’s going to get better (in Perth).”