NSW coach Brad Fittler says it was Cronulla prop Matt Prior's similarity in style to injured Blues front rower Reagan Campbell-Gillard which edged the Shark ahead of big-minute Titans prop Ryan James.
Fronting media at Coogee on Tuesday evening, Fittler admitted it was very hard delivering the tough news to James for the second time in as many Origins but was also delighted to be able to hand a long-awaited Origin debut to a 31-year-old.
"Matt Prior at 31, playing his first game for NSW is incredibly exciting," Fittler said.
"Ryan James as he has pretty much over the last couple of weeks carried himself incredibly well. He's going to stay around for the rest of the week and Luke Keary as well. That will make it a pretty strong squad going into Sunday.
"The similarities between [Prior] and Reagan Campbell-Gillard I think tipped us that way, we don't have to change as much.
"I've been fans of both those players for a long time. It's one of those decisions, you have to make one and we thought we'd get it away earlier rather than later.
"He's a good fella, I've liked the way he's carried himself for a long time, he's played in a couple of grand finals and he's played in big games so he's not going to be overwhelmed."
Fittler said if James continued to play the way he has been he will earn an Origin debut sooner rather than later.
"It was tough but we've had some uncomfortable conversations already with Ryan. I've always been a fan of the way he gets around, he's a front rower playing 80 minutes week in week out, his last couple of games have been his best couple since his name's been brought up with Origin so you've got to say he's handling the pressure well," Fittler said.
"If he got his opportunity he wouldn't have been overwhelmed either... if he keeps playing the way he does he'll get an opportunity very soon."
Prior, speaking to media just 15 minutes after finding out the news for himself, said it hadn't really sunk in yet.
"Bit over the moon at the moment, I only just found out the news so it's just starting to sink in that I'm actually going to get the chance to put on the Blues jersey and run out there on Sunday," Prior said.
He added he had never give up on his Origin dream despite not being in the mix among 11 debutants just three weeks ago.
"Especially over the last few years I put it on my goal list and it's something I've been working towards for three or four years, I've been trying to tick every box I can and doing all the extras and praying one day I'd get a chance and if I ever got the chance hopefully I'd be ready for it," Prior added.
Fittler confirmed Prior would come in as a straight swap at starting prop for Campbell-Gillard, with Paul Vaughan to again provide impact off the bench.
"I start every week for Cronulla which is good so I'm used to more intensity at the start of the game so I'll be ready to go and looking forward to getting out there and straight into it," Prior said.
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