NSW coach Brad Fittler won’t be rushed into a decision over his selection headache in the centres for the State of Origin decider after Matt Burton’s stunning Blues debut in Perth on Sunday night.
Burton and 2021 grand final team-mate Stephen Crichton were the centre pairing in NSW’s 44-12 drubbing of Queensland at Optus Stadium after Jack Wighton and Latrell Mitchell were ruled out due to COVID-19.
Wighton was the Blues best player in the series opening 16-10 loss at Suncorp Stadium, while Mitchell had been considered a certain selection for Origin II if he had been fit.
The NSW team for the July 13 decider is set to be announced after this weekend’s round of NRL matches but it is possible that Fittler will pick all four in the 22-man squad and delay a final decision on his line-up.
However, it will be hard to make unforced changes to a winning side, with prop Payne Haas the only injury concern from Origin II after suffering a suspected high ankle sprain.
“I think we just sit and wait,” Fittler told NRL.com. “They are all pretty fit so I think that outside of Payne, maybe, there is a good chance they will all play next week.
“I will just sit and watch. Things happen all the time, so I don’t want to make my mind up. Matt Burton was outstanding, not only did he do some really clever things, but he also worked really hard. He knows the game well.”
Burton enjoyed one of the best Origin debuts in recent memory as the Bulldogs playmaker revelled in being re-united with seven of his former Panthers team-mates.
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The 22-year-old scored a try from a Nathan Cleary grubber, laid on another for winger Brian To’o and produced a one-on-one strip on Cameron Munster.
“We spoke about it all week and it was a great kick from Nathan, all I had to do was put it down,” Burton said of his 27th minute try. “He was outstanding, and our middles set the platform for us, so it was good to get the result.
“It was a great week with all the boys. They are freakish talents, Jarome [Luai], Marto [Liam Martin] and Bizza [To’o]. They just do everything at 100 per cent so it made my job easy to slot in there.”
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Burton also targeted rookie Maroons winger Murray Taulagi with some towering kicks in the second half that he had practiced with Blues team-mates during the captain’s run at Optus Stadium on Saturday.
“I hit that first one pretty sweet, so it was nice to pull that off,” Burton said. “It was good to use my kicking for the side and take a bit of heat off Nathan. I enjoyed it.”
Burton was unsure if any of his kicks had been higher than the stadium roof, as suggested by Andrew Johns during the Channel Nine commentary, but he revealed he had been aiming for the Spidercam wire running across the field.
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“I could see the wire coming across. I was just trying to hit that and see what happens. I hit it pretty sweet,” he said. “I sort of just put it up to see where it went. I was lucky I got hold of it.”
Crichton revealed that the NSW outside backs had attempted to catch Burton’s bombs at training, with captain and fullback James Tedesco the only player who didn’t spill a kick during the session.
“With Burto’s kicking game, the ball can bounce anywhere and we struggled trying to catch it at training so I can imagine what they were going through,” Crichton said.
“We just make sure we have the boys chasing together and just being in the picture just in case.
“It is good fun and we all just practice at training. Teddy has a clean sheet; he catches all of them.”