Cordner unfazed by Blues forward injuries
NSW Origin skipper Boyd Cordner is unconcerned about the Blues' front row depth despite Brad Fittler's middle stocks copping a triple blow within the space of 48 hours.
News that Australian Kangaroos prop Jordan McLean requires surgery and a minimum of three months on the sidelines has been compounded by a 4-6 week lay-off for form Melbourne Storm lock Dale Finucane, who suffered a broken thumb in last Friday's loss to Cronulla.
Both big men were in the frame for Fittler's middle rotation, particularly with Andrew Fifita announcing an allegiance switch to Mate Ma'a Tonga over the weekend, effectively ruling him out of Origin and Australian consideration.
Despite Fifita's match-winning performance in Origin I last year his spot had been considered under threat from recent Kangaroos debutants McLean and Penrith powerhouse Reagan Campbell-Gillard, while incumbents David Klemmer, Aaron Woods and Jake Trbojevic still hold the inside running for the series opener on June 6.
Cordner admitted the slew of injuries up front was less than ideal, but backed the Blues' forward depth to hold them in good stead in Fittler's first series as coach.
"This round has been crazy with injuries, just trying to get your head around them all," Cordner said on Monday.
"But we've got some really healthy competition in the front row there. The boys are in really good form at the moment so it's going to be really good and exciting news if they keep playing the way they're playing."
While Finucane's injury should still allow him to get game time under his belt before Origin I, the likes of St. George Illawarra's Tyson Frizell and one-time NSW regulars Trent Merrin and James Tamou will also come into contention for spots in the middle.
Speaking prior to Fifita's contentious declaration of his preference to play for Tonga, Fittler questioned the 28-year-old's commitment to the NSW cause before stressing that after one series win in over a decade ''we're at the stage where we need players who want to die for the jersey.''
Fifita's standing in the Blues set-up was reflected by his non-invite to a meeting of NSW players earlier this year, despite his 10 Origin caps since 2013.
Cordner bears no ill will toward the Cronulla prop over his switch of allegiance, but backed Fittler's sentiments after several culture-based issues played their part in the 2017 series loss.
"That's [Fifita's] decision and he made his decision at the end of last year with the World Cup," Cordner said.
"That's fine and you've got to respect that.
"It's good that he's come out [and said] that he wants to play for Tonga, that's his decision, but I'll back Freddie up 100 percent.
"We want everyone that's pulling on that sky blue jersey to do a job and do whatever it takes."
Asked about his own Origin ambitions, Reagan Campbell-Gillard had plenty of sympathy for his injured counterparts but wasn't thinking too far ahead himself.
"It sucks seeing Macca [Jordan McLean] going to be out for three or four months now," Campbell-Gillard said.
"I've never been in that [Origin] side and I've never been a part of a camp like that so I want to focus on myself here at Penrith first and build on what we've started so far. Come a few months later down the track we will see what happens but so far I'm not focused on that.
"I definitely think you need to earn jersey, you can't just ponder around and assume you're going to be in a side like that. That's why I just want to focus on myself here at Penrith and play consistent football to give myself the best opportunity."
Witness Australia’s greatest sporting rivalry when Origin comes to the Melbourne Cricket ground on Wednesday, June 6. Tickets available at NRL.com/tickets