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Operation shut down Kalyn Ponga is the assignment facing Josh Morris after the veteran centre was recalled into the Origin arena after a three-year absence.

As the Blues put the finishing touches on their team over the weekend, there was a realisation among the NSW brains trust that the outcome of next Wednesday's Holden State of Origin series opener could be decided by how their right edge defends.

Brad Fittler has traditionally opted to focus purely on his team, giving very little thought to the opposition when deciding the make-up of his side.

But this year it’s slightly different.

The threat of Ponga, in combination with Cameron Munster, down Queensland’s left edge has given the Blues plenty to concern themselves.

Those worries are primarily behind the selection of Morris at right centre, a player most assumed would never represent the sky-blue again as the curtain closes on his glittering career.

"Absolutely, there’s no doubt," Fittler said when asked of how much thought he gave to the Ponga threat when selecting Morris.

Breaking down the Blues' Origin I team

"Kalyn’s a great player, there’s no doubt about that. He’s very young. This is his second Origin. He doesn’t seem to be overwhelmed by anything thrown at him at the moment. But we picked Josh Morris for what he can do with the ball as well. Hopefully he gets a bit of early ball and he can do something.

"I’ve been speaking to Brandy [chief advisor Greg Alexander] since the start of the year about how impressed we’ve been with him with the ball. I can’t remember him being in that much space over the last couple of years. I think I everyone knows what a good defender he is ... Plus we needed someone with a bit of experience.

"We have five new players, so having some experience on that right side is going to benefit us.

Brisbane centre James Roberts was never going to be picked from the Intrust Super Cup, so Fittler thought about Clint Gutherson, however his form dropped over the past few weeks.

And while Fittler considered Nick Cotric at right centre, the task of stopping the two most electric players in the Telstra Premiership in an unfamiliar position was too big of a risk.

Morris has long been regarded the best defensive centre in the NRL, and the man defending inside him is one of the best defensive halfbacks.

While Fittler has remained loyal to Nathan Cleary, his selection is as much defensive-minded as it is attacking.

Cleary has never been afraid to put his body on the line and is renowned for his effort plays, something that NSW will rely on come game one as he defends alongside Morris and Tyson Frizell on NSW’s right.

Blues announcement: Fittler names five debutants for Origin I

It’s part of the reason why Fittler went with Cleary over Adam Reynolds instead of selecting an all-South Sydney halves pairing alongside Cody Walker.

"The fact Adam went down and was going to be out for a couple of days didn’t help," Fittler said.

"I spoke to Nathan during the week about what he’s playing under at the moment. I spoke to his dad, we’re good friends. I said if you stand up this week it tells us you’ll be right. I thought he was fantastic in a pretty tough game at Bankwest Stadium. That said to us he was ready.

"Then we saw Adam go down. That combination with Cody Walker could have been valuable but I think the cards just fell the way they did and Nathan got the shot."

It’s not often a series-winning team names five debutants for the opening game of the ensuing series.

Tom Trbojevic’s injury has opened the door for Cotric, while Roberts’s woes at the Broncos forced another change.

Jack de Belin is unavailable for selection and the form of Angus Crichton left a lot to be desired but the Roosters forward has been retained after playing his part in the 2018 series triumph.

In comes 19-year-old Broncos powerhouse Payne Haas, impressive Souths lock Cameron Murray, Walker and Canberra’s Jack Wighton – all players you would consider among the hottest in the NRL over the opening 11 rounds of the competition.

It sounds like a lot of change, but this time last year Fittler named 11 debutants without fear. They repaid his faith then and throughout the course of the next 10 days he will instil them with the belief needed to repay him again.


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