NSW coach Andrew Patmore says the decision to leave incumbent halves Kirra Dibb and Maddie Studdon out of the squad for the side's State of Origin title defence was driven by mixed NRLW form.
Dibb and Studdon led NSW to triumph last year at North Sydney Oval with Studdon collecting the Nellie Doherty Medal as player of the match and Dibb setting up a first-half try for Jessica Sergis.
However, the pair's omissions were two of seven changes made by Patmore when the squad was announced on Wednesday with Roosters captain Corban McGregor and playmaker Melanie Howard likely to replace them.
Studdon was below her best for the Dragons in their recent NRLW campaign with an ankle injury picked up in the opening round of the three-week season not helping her cause.
"It's been a policy since I've been here, that we've got to pick a team who have girls that are playing their best footy," Patmore said.
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"It's purely on form. It's always hard when there are tough decisions to make. The conversations are really tough but footy is like that and the girls' game is getting so much more competitive.
"I want to make it competitive and make them force me to pick them. It's unfair if the best players aren't picked. I'm really happy with the form the players selected are in."
It caps a remarkable few weeks for Howard, who was called into the Roosters' NRLW side in round three after a strong season with the Central Coast Roosters.
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Among the players in line to join Howard on debut include Shaylee Bent, Keeley Davis, Kennedy Cherrington, Filomina Hanisi, Sarah Togatuki, Brydie Parker, Shanice Parker, Yasmin Meakes and Quincy Dodd.
Patmore said the inclusion of Hanisi, Cherrington and Togatuki was a particular bonus after strong NRLW seasons.
"They're tough, ready and have got great leg speed," he said.
"They're full of enthusiasm and if you add them to Millie and Simaima in the middle there's a good mix of experience with good go-forward.
In other major selection news:
- Sam Bremner was not included in the squad due to work and family commitments;
- Isabelle Kelly, Kezie Apps and Tiana Penitani were named despite leg injuries;
- Incumbent NSW hooker, veteran Kylie Hilder, was included in the squad alongside Dodd and Davis as an assistant coach/player back-up;
- Roosters forward Vanessa Foliaki, Warriors centre Shontelle Stowers and Dragons winger Shakiah Tungai were left out;
- Holli Wheeler (knee) and Taikele Katoa (pregnancy) were not considered.
The NSW squad is expected to travel to the Sunshine Coast on Friday and enter a biosecurity bubble for a 14-day period where they've been given an exemption to train in preparation for the clash.
"As much as it will be a little bit of an inconvenience being up there for an extended time, we've had good talks about how to manage that," Patmore said.
"We'll have a fair bit of downtime but also some quality time with some of the younger girls, particularly with a new halves pairing and a couple of front-rowers."
NSW Blues squad
- Kezie Apps (St George Illawarra Dragons)
- Shaylee Bent (St George Illawarra Dragons)
- Millie Boyle (Brisbane Broncos)
- Kennedy Cherrington (Sydney Roosters)
- Keeley Davis (St George Illawarra Dragons)
- Quincy Dodd (Sydney Roosters)
- Filomina Hanisi (Sydney Roosters)
- Kylie Hilder
- Melanie Howard (Sydney Roosters)
- Isabelle Kelly (St George Illawarra Dragons)
- Corban McGregor (Sydney Roosters)
- Yasmin Meakes (Sydney Roosters)
- Brydie Parker (Sydney Roosters)
- Shanice Parker (Sydney Roosters)
- Tiana Penitani (St George Illawarra Dragons)
- Jessica Sergis (St George Illawarra Dragons)
- Hannah Southwell (Sydney Roosters)
- Simaima Taufa (Sydney Roosters)
- Sarah Togatuki (Sydney Roosters)
- Botille Vette-Welsh (Sydney Roosters)