Is Tevita Pangai Junior the biggest shock selection in Brad Fittler’s Blues reign? Coach explained why he gave the Dogs star his debut – but fans were up in arms
- Fittler admits he has to take risks
- Long time admirer of Pangai Junior
- New South Wales supporters are not sure
New South Wales coach Brad Fittler has messed with his biggest selection gamble to date and fans have been left stunned and confused ahead of the State of Origin opener on May 31.
The eccentric Blues coach is no stranger to controversy, having moved Damien Cook to the bench and plucked Daniel Saifiti from the Origin wilderness in the past.
But his call to bring in Bulldogs enforcer Tevita Pangai Junior has left many scratching their heads – including the forward himself.
‘It’s like I’m shocked, as many of you are. It’s a big dream of mine to play Origin and I hope I can play,’ Pangai Junior said this morning.
We [Canterbury] is building a strong team and hopefully it will attract more players to the Bulldogs.
‘It took me a while to find my feet but I hope I can maintain good performances.’
Pangai Junior was stunned to learn of his choice – and he was far from alone
Fittler, pictured with former Maroons champion Johnathan Thurston, took some big risks in a bid to beat a strong Queensland side
Some fans thought the selection of Pangai Junior was a case of mistaken identity and that South Sydney pro Tevita Tatola should have been called up
Many New South Wales fans were surprised by the decision, with some saying Pangai Junior wasn’t even the best prop in his team.
They may have a point, with Bulldog Max King averaging 123 meters a game including almost 42 post-contact metres, along with 38 tackles per match at a 94.8 per cent efficiency rate.
Pangai Junior averaged 129 meters per game, 42 post-contact meters and 25 tackles per game at an efficiency rate of 90.0 percent.
Others joked that Fittler called the wrong Tevita, saying South Sydney supporter Tevita Tatola should have called.
“When Freddy goes to the bench with Tevita, something will happen. Good or bad, who knows.¿
– Matty Johns on Tevita Pangai Jr’s NSW Blues selection@SENLeague #NRL
— Morning with Matty White (@MattyWhiteSEN) May 21, 2023
Tevita Pangai Jr to play for Blues guess our injury crisis is bad.
Have we tried cloning Payne Haas?
— William Wood (@TheWilliamWood) May 21, 2023
Ramping Parramatta forward Reagan Campbell-Gillard is unavailable with a groin injury while the likes of Daniel Saifiti, former Kangaroos representative Jordan McLean and ex-Blues players David Klemmer and Jack de Belin are out. noticed.
Second-rowers controversially dropped include rampaging Sea Eagles forward Haumole Olakau’atu and Roosters star Angus Crichton, while South Sydney firebrand Keaon Koloamatangi remains injured.
Former Blues and Newcastle star Matthew Johns says how Pangai is used on the bench will be a lottery.
‘When Freddy goes to the bench with Tevita, something will happen. Whether it’s good or not, who knows?’ he told SEN.
It could be a career-defining risk for the Blues coach, who is under pressure after his star-studded Blues lost to Queensland last season.
Fittler said he felt the squad was being bullied by the Queensland pack in 2022 and he needed to make changes.
‘We have to make big calls,’ Fittler told Channel Nine.
Newcastle prop Daniel Saifiti, centre, was unlucky not to have been called up by Blues coach Brad Fittler
North Queensland Cowboys and former Australian forward Jordan McLean, centre, was selected by the Blues last year but injury ruled him out. This time he was not so lucky
‘We have a couple of back rowers – Angus [Crichton] and Liam Martin — who hasn’t played for most of the year. I’ve been a Tevita fan for a long time — great, tough guy.
‘I like what they are doing at Canterbury at the moment. They don’t win every game but what they do do is they never give up.
‘Watching what he does off the ball makes me excited that he’s becoming a better player. If Tevita can fix those parts of his game, the talent part is there.’
Fittler also admitted it was difficult to get on the phone when he told Cook he didn’t make the cut because he preferred Wests rake Apisai Koroisau.
‘It’s gone down in the last couple of weeks I think Api’s form, his relationship with some of the players in our team – there’s been a long relationship even in big games,’ said Fittler.
‘Cooky is in such good form. I called him last night talking about the footy … and he assured me that if something were to happen, he would be our go-to guy.’