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Blues coach Brad Fittler is prepared for centre Kotoni Staggs and winger Daniel Tupou to miss Origin II if they choose to play for Tonga in the mid-season Test against New Zealand on the same weekend.

Staggs and Tupou were among the six new faces named in the NSW side for the series opener at Accor Stadium on June 8 and Fittler revealed that he had chosen the Tongan internationals without knowing whether they would be available for the next match in Perth.

The pair were unsure what they will do if forced to decide between playing for the Blues in Origin II on June 26 or representing their heritage in the Test at Mt Smart Stadium on June 25.

After earning his first Origin jersey, Staggs may opt to keep his World Cup options open by committing to NSW as players who pull on a Test jersey during the upcoming representative round will be tied to that country for the World Cup.  

However, Tupou reaffirmed his commitment to Tonga for the end-of-season World Cup in England.

Daniel Tupou with fellow Roosters winger Joseph Suaalii
Daniel Tupou with fellow Roosters winger Joseph Suaalii ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

“My heart is with Tonga but whatever opportunity arises I’ll definitely capitalise on it then,” Tupou said.

“That’s for another time to talk to Freddy, I’ll hear what he has to say, and we’ll go from there. I’ll still play for Tonga in the World Cup.”

Tupou has previously made seven appearances for NSW, including the 2020 series, but Staggs said playing Origin had been a childhood dream for him.

“I’ve played for Tonga and that is pretty close to me, but I just couldn’t give this opportunity up,” Staggs said. “I am grateful and honoured to be able to be in the position I am in.

“I’ll make the right decision when that comes. I haven’t made any decisions yet. I have got to be injury free first. Before Origin II there are a lot of games for my club.

“There is the World Cup at the end of the year as well and that is another thing. My decision will come at the end of the year and I will make the right decision.”

Other NSW players face similar dilemmas ahead of the Pacific Test double-header involving Samoa versus Cook Islands and Fiji versus Papua New Guinea at Campbelltown Stadium on June 25.

Among them are forwards Junior Paulo (Samoa), Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Tariq Sims (both Fiji), winger Brian To'o, five-eighth Jarome Luai and bench utility Stephen Crichton (all Samoa).

However, Tupou and Staggs have played more regularly for their nation of heritage.

Tupou was a member of the Tonga team that turned the 2017 World Cup on its head by beating New Zealand and falling short of the final after a controversial loss to England, while Staggs represented the Pacific nation in 2018 and 2019.

The pair both played in the historic 16-12 defeat of Australia at Eden Park in November, 2019 – the last Test involving the Kangaroos after their 2020 tour to England and France was cancelled due to COVID and the World Cup postponed from last year to this October and November.

Fittler acknowledged the significance Tupou and Staggs placed on playing for Tonga and said their availability for Origin II wasn’t a consideration when he chose the team for next Wednesday night’s series opener.

Tupou in action for Tonga
Tupou in action for Tonga ©NRL Photos

“I am just going to focus on this game and leave that to next week or the week after,” Fittler said.

“There is a big moment for them at the same time as Game II, so I am not sure where they sit at the moment. I am just going to worry about Game I and we will deal with that in the future.”

Staggs will make his Origin debut at right centre, while Tupou was selected in place of Josh Addo-Carr after the toughest selection decision of Fittler's Origin coaching career.

“He's pretty much been the best winger for a number of years. He's always on my radar,” Fittler said of Tupou.

"I've coached him in the City team and State of Origin previously, and I've always loved him being part of my teams."

Blues debutants Joseph Suaalii, Stephen Crichton, Ryan Matterson, Nicho Hynes, Jacob Saifiti and Kotoni Staggs
Blues debutants Joseph Suaalii, Stephen Crichton, Ryan Matterson, Nicho Hynes, Jacob Saifiti and Kotoni Staggs ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Addo-Carr has played for NSW in every Origin since 2018 and Fittler said he had spoken with the Bulldogs winger about his axing.

“I have been in contact with Fox and we are both aware of the situation, and we are cool,” Fittler said. “Without a doubt, he has been the heart and soul of this team for a few years now so that was the toughest call for sure.

“I think that we both just recognise that finding some form back at Canterbury is most probably the best thing for him. If you look at our team, apart from Jack Wighton and Tariq [Sims] every other player is in a top 8 team.”

Tupou’s height in an anticipated aerial battle with Maroons winger Xavier Coates was also a factor, and Fittler said he had opted for Wighton ahead of Penrith centre Stephen Crichton due to Origin experience.

“The big thing with Jack is that he has played in that position for us a few times and done a good job,” Fittler said. “I was mindful of not putting inexperienced people together, given the kicking game we have seen from [Daly] Cherry-Evans and [Cameron] Munster.

“I just feel like that needs to be one of the best parts of our game. Sometimes experience under the conditions can help.”

Crichton has been named in the No.14 jersey and will cover any position in the outside backs, with Wighton to shift to five-eighth if halves Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai are forced from the field.


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