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NSW coach Brad Fittler.

When NSW captain James Tedesco was forced from the field midway through the first half of last season's Origin decider, Blues coach Brad Fittler looked to his bench and had no option but to send Penrith forward Isaah Yeo into the fray.

It's a position Fittler is unlikely to find himself in again during next Wednesday's series opener after choosing players who are not only considered the best in their position but also able to cover for any injuries or sin-binnings without having any real impact on the team.

The Blues trained under Fittler and his coaching staff of Craig Fitzgibbon, Danny Buderus and Andrew Johns at the NSW Centre of Excellence on Thursday and it was obvious that almost every scenario in Townsville had been considered.

Jack Wighton covers most positions in the backline, Liam Martin can play as an edge back-rower or in the middle and NSW have props Payne Haas and Junior Paulo on the bench.

Api Koroisau was a strategic selection as 18th man and was chosen for the role specifically to act as a back-up hooker in case Damien Cook is ruled out by foul play.

The only hole in Fittler's plan would be if Cook was injured and could not play on without the Blues being able to activate the 18th man for an injury caused by foul play or three players being ruled out after failing HIAs during the match.

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However, rookie five-eighth  Jarome Luai has performed the dummy-half duties for Penrith early in his career when used off the interchange bench in conjunction with halves Nathan Cleary and James Maloney.

With the focus on HIAs and the crackdown on high contact, it is likely that Fittler and Queensland coach Paul Green will need to reshuffle their line-ups at some stage during the match but the Blues are confident they have most contingencies covered, with:

  • Tom Trbojevic, Latrell Mitchell or Wighton able to play fullback in place of Tedesco;
  • Trbojevic to shift to wing and Wighton to play centre if Josh Addo-Carr or Brian To'o were injured;
  • Wighton to slot into the centres if Trbojevic or Mitchell were unable to continue or had to move to another position;
  • Wighton to take on a playmaking role if Cleary or Luai were off;
  • Jake Trbojevic or Cam Murray to replace Yeo at lock if needed;
  • Martin or Yeo able to play on an edge in place of Murray or Tariq Sims;
  • Trbojevic, Daniel Safiti, Haas and Paulo will be the front-row rotation, and;
  • Koroisau or Luai will take over the dummy half duties if Cook can't play 80 minutes.

The Blues had to overcome the loss of Murray, who was playing lock, and second-rower and captain Boyd Cordner (HIA) in last year's opening match at Adelaide Oval.

The loss of Tedesco in the deciding match at Suncorp Stadium forced Yeo into the centres and Clint Gutherson to shift to fullback for 60 minutes. The Blues lost both matches.

"I sort of had my head wrapped around it all week, just thinking that if a back did go down I was the one who had to get out there," Yeo said of his 60 minute stint in the centres.

"You don't see many fullbacks go down like that but I understood that was my role for the team and I tried to do it to the best of my ability."

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Yeo is one of five Penrith players in the NSW team, and Koroisau makes six after being chosen as 18th man.

"We have got Jack Wighton on the bench, who can cover so many positions, Liam Martin can play middle or edge and you have got the two big boppers [Haas and Paulo] so I think versatility wise everything is covered," he said. "Hooker is the final one and I think Api is 18th man for that reason."

Blues advisor Greg Alexander said versatility had been a consideration when picking the squad.

"You need players who can fill any spot on the field where it is required and we have got that," he said. "We have got a bit of cover in most positions."

Meanwhile, Johns has re-joined the NSW coaching staff after missing last year's series due to his Channel 9 commitments and the strict bio-security protocols for the Origin teams, which required the squads to be in a bubble.

He took part in Tuesday and Thursday's sessions.

 

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