MATT Prior has emerged as a shock NSW selection after gaining a call-up to an extended Blues squad.
The dual premiership winner was named alongside potential debutants Ryan James and Tariq Sims as well as Roosters five-eighth Luke Keary to face Queensland next Sunday. Prior, James and Sims will battle it out for one spot following the broken jaw to Origin game one prop Regan Campbell-Gillard.
Campbell-Gillard’s six-week injury is the only change to a NSW side who triumphed against Queensland in Origin I.
It caps a remarkable turnaround for James who was left “devastated” when a Blues jersey was snatched out from underneath him before Origin I. James delivered Blues coach Brad Fittler a message with a barnstorming performance for the Titans.
James outplayed Blues prop David Klemmer and former NSW forward Aaron Woods, featuring in 74 unbroken minutes, running for 121m and making 44 tackles which was highlighted by a solo try when he ran past Klemmer to score.
James was slated to be chosen before Klemmer forced his way into the Origin I side with an impressive hitout just hours before the team was picked. James had been told he was in the extended squad for the opening game and to pack his bags for Sydney before being withdrawn at the last minute.
“It was devastating,” James said. “You can’t do much about it. Freddy (Fittler) called me that night with what his plan was. They won … an opportunity is there. It’s up to the selectors.
“(To be picked would be a) childhood dream come true. Growing up in Tweed Heads just south of the boarder. I had a couple of the boys over (to watch game one). I’m not too bitter. I still support the Blues, I just want them to win.”
His Titans coach Garth Brennan said the Blues would be “crazy” not to pick him.
Fittler must now weigh up picking James or Prior or instead start with Jake Trbojevic or Tyson Frizell in the front row. If Frizell starts at prop that would pave the door for Sims to make his debut.
The Blues had considered drafting Josh Jackson and Trent Merrin into the squad before opting for Prior and James while Sims was part of an extended squad for Origin I.
Despite not being placed on report, Klemmer could come under scrutiny from the match review committee for a two high tackles.
Fittler praised James’ football nous.
“The one thing he (James) does do really well – his attention to detail is fantastic,” Fittler said. “A lot of people may question other parts of his game, but when you watch him he’s a really educated footballer.
“It’s his marker work, he scores tries and I like watching him.”
Despite a limited preparation, the Blues camp would have no hesitation in persisting with centre Latrell Mitchell given his stunning Origin I performance.
All signs were that the gun centre would recover in time for the ANZ Stadium blockbuster but may be limited to just one training session.
However, should Mitchell fall short in his recovery, the Blues have a contingency plan.
Tyrone Peachey – who has been playing left centre for Penrith – is an option to replace Mitchell after they elected against keeping Nick Cotric in the squad after he was 19th man for Origin I.
Luke Keary comes into the squad as cover for James Maloney after he suffered a glute enjoy in Friday’s loss to the Roosters.
However, The Sunday Telegraph spoke to Panthers CEO Bryan Fletcher who said Maloney “would be fine’’.
SQUAD: Josh Addo-Carr (Melbourne Storm), Nathan Cleary (Penrith Panthers), Damien Cook (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Boyd Cordner (c) (Sydney Roosters), Angus Crichton (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Jack de Belin (St George Illawarra Dragons), Tyson Frizell (St George Illawarra Dragons), Ryan James (Gold Coast Titans), Luke Keary (Sydney Roosters), David Klemmer (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), James Maloney (Penrith Panthers), Latrell Mitchell (Sydney Roosters), Tyrone Peachey (Penrith Panthers), Matt Prior (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks), James Roberts (Brisbane Broncos), Tariq Sims (St George Illawarra Dragons), James Tedesco (Sydney Roosters), Jake Trbojevic (Manly Warringah Sea Eagles), Tom Trbojevic (Manly Warringah Sea Eagles), Paul Vaughan (St George Illawarra Dragons)