There are problems elsewhere too. Just a week ago, Kangaroos prop Regan Campbell-Gillard, was playing reserve grade. Another Blues incumbent, Penrith teammate James Maloney, was sidelined for the Panthers’ win against Parramatta, robbing him of an opportunity to find something resembling last year’s form.
Another member of the victorious 2018 Blues team, Jack de Belin, remains sidelined indefinitely after being charged with aggravated sexual assault, and his bid to have his no-fault stand down overturned was ruled out by the Federal Court.
Then Tevita Pangai jnr chose this week, of all weeks, to decide he would rather represent Tonga than NSW.
The best piece of advice Fittler has received came from a former Origin coach. Phil Gould urged Fittler not to pick his team until Sunday. Freddy can only hope that he doesn’t lose any more troops before then.
It wasn’t so long ago that the Maroons appeared in disarray. The three Queensland NRL teams were languishing near the foot of the ladder and several contenders for Kevin Walters’ side were either injured or playing like they were. Now it appears Daly Cherry-Evans will make a miraculous recovery from an ankle injury, Matt Scott has wound back the clock and Kalyn Ponga has found his spot – and his spark.
The Blues won’t have the luxury of banking on loyalty and will likely have to blood several new faces to plug gaps. Canberra youngster Nick Cotric may have to fill one of the contentious three-quarter spots, while Brisbane forward Payne Haas will likely come off the bench. In Haas’ case, he will be observing Ramadan right up until Origin eve. Mark O’Meley, the man who coached Haas at junior Origin level, believes the teenager is ready to step up.
“I don’t think it will faze him,” O’Meley said. “We have seen him in some big occasions already and he seems to handle it quite well. He played 18s last year, so it will be a big jump, but there have been a few forwards who have played at 19.”
Fittler has much to consider before naming his team at 6pm in Wollongong on Sunday. The future of his universe depends on it.