Gus swings axe on NSW champion for Origin

Legendary NSW coach Phil Gould would axe hooker Damien Cook for State of Origin I, leave out Latrell Mitchell and consider Jack Wighton as a back-rower.

Gould revealed his Blues team on 100% Footy on Monday night, a line-up laden with seven Penrith Panthers players; including five debutants (marked *).

Gould’s side: 1. James Tedesco 2. Brian To’o* 3. Stephen Crichton* 4. Tom Trbojevic 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Jarome Luai* 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Apisai Koroisau* 10. Payne Haas 11. Tariq Sims 12. Liam Martin* 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Jake Trbojevic 15. Tyson Frizell 16. Junior Paulo 17. Jack Wighton.

Koroisau would be making his debut at hooker, combining in the spine with fellow Panthers Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary.

“Api Koroisau at nine rather than Damien Cook … I just find it hard to pick anyone out of that South Sydney side at the moment,” Gould said.

“There’s something going wrong there. They’ve been beaten by 50 in their last few performances and I just can’t work out what’s going on.

“I love Damien as a player, I love him as a bloke, but he’s just not playing well enough. Koroisau, with his link with Cleary and Luai, could really be the difference in that team.”

With nine Origin games to his credit and two series wins, Cook has built a strong NSW career but his form has been down this season. His damaging running from dummy-half have seemingly been affected by the NRL’s rule changes; though at Origin level, he’s enjoyed an excellent combination with superstar fullback James Tedesco.

Mitchell was left out by both Gould and former NSW captain Paul Gallen in favour of Penrith centre Stephen Crichton. Formerly a superstar centre, Mitchell is playing fullback at South Sydney and only just returned from a month’s suspension, with his team hammered by the Panthers on Sunday.

“He (Mitchell) hasn’t played a lot of footy. The only reason I left him out is because he hadn’t played the last [four] weeks, he came back on the weekend and his team had 50 points put on them,” Gallen said on 100% Footy.

“Now, that’s not all his fault … but I said in my column that unless he goes out and had a blinder this week and demands being picked … that’s the only reason I haven’t picked him.”

Gould added: “And he didn’t play for the back half of last season either. It’s a difficult one – but he wants to be a fullback and that’s where he’s going to be judged at the moment.”

Crichton would play left centre, though he’s been on the right side or at fullback for Penrith lately. Matt Burton has starred on the left for the Panthers and has made a massive fan of Blues coach Brad Fittler, meaning that he may be a bolter for the team, or simply get time around the squad as a shadow player.

Left-edge back-row has become a headache for NSW due to the potential suspension of Angus Crichton, which prompted Gould to pick Tariq Sims.

Yet Gould also threw up the option of playing Wighton as a left-edge back-rower, given his size and expertise in playing that side of the field. He’s starred at left-centre for the Blues previously and inhabits the left side as Canberra’s five-eighth.

“I’ve gone for Tariq Sims because he’s probably the only specialist I could find left in the competition,” Gould said.

“But one bloke that I would play at back-row is Jack Wighton, even though he may not have played there before. But simply the way the game’s being refereed now, the way the game’s being played, another playmaker; he’s strong, direct, he’s a really good defender.

“He plays left edge anyway, so what’s it really matter if he’s one [position] in or one out? It doesn’t matter. I could play Jack Wighton left edge really easily.

“Luai has been doubly trained as a hooker, too, he can handle that

Gould said that he had been seriously tempted to select Tom Trbojevic at fullback; which would have meant a bombshell snub for former Dally M Medallist and incumbent Test No.1 Tedesco. Gould said that ‘Turbo’ was the NRL’s form player, having run riot for Manly since returning from injury.

“I was very close to picking Tom at fullback,” Gould said.

“Very, very close because sometimes I think the best player in the game’s got to play his best position and right at the moment, he’s probably the marquee player of the game.

“But I went back to a game a couple of years ago (Origin II, 2019), where he came in and played in the centres and roamed around in the middle of the field playing as a second fullback and had an extraordinary game in a big win for the Blues; so I elected to put him in the centres for the sake of another option.”

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