Phil Gould reveals his main concern over NSW Blues in Origin opener

Phil Gould has revealed his main concern over the NSW Blues in the State of Origin opener – and it all comes down to lack of experience.

Brad Fittler has selected three debutants, with strike centre Kotoni Staggs the only one who will start the game, as both Ryan Matterson and Stephen Cricthon have been named to come off the bench.

Staggs will play alongside Daniel Tupou on the right-ride, with the latter recalled in favour of Josh Addo-Carr, and the pair have never played alongside each other.

       

Jack Wighton and Brian To’o will make up the other centre-wing combination on the left-side, and with Wighton filling the utility role in 2021, the pair will be unfamiliar with each other out wide. 

Speaking on 100% Footy on Monday night, Gould admitted he had concerns over the defensive combinations out wide for the Blues, and believes some of Queensland’s big guns may look to exploit them.

“My concern comes with the lack of combination in centres and wingers having played together and their defensive reads,” he said.

“Kotoni Staggs is on debut and is probably alongside Daniel Tupou. Brian To’o is alongside Jack Wighton out on the left – they haven’t played football together those blokes.

“They are going to have some big decisions to make in defence at important times during the game.

“Once you get Kalyn Ponga working with (Cameron) Munster and Daly Cherry-Evans, they can certainly threaten you out wide. The likes of Valentine Holmes and Dane Gagai can be very threatening out on those edges.

“I worry a little bit about the defensive experience…I think that’s an area where Queensland can expose.

“They are going to have to win the battle in the middle to get the ball to the edges with time and space, but it’s potentially an area where NSW could crack at a vital stage of the game.”

Staggs has improved on his defence this season, operating at 83.8% tackle efficiency, but has the tendency to make the wrong decision without the ball in hand.

But once NSW are on the attack, Gould isn’t worried at all and believes Staggs is exactly the man Fittler needed to select to cover for the loss of Latrell Mitchell.

“My view in Origin is that you generally need people that can force linebreaks or missed tackles out of nothing individually,” he said.

“It’s not necessarily a structure or a play that’s going to get you out of the backfield…Latrell Mitchell and that sort of thing – they can make things happen by themselves.

“There’s not a lot of that in the NSW forward pack. There’s not fellas that are very steppy or able to push through tackles or look for one-armed offloads, which has been there in recent years.

“There are limitations to their attack…we don’t have a lot of linebreakers in our team.

“Kotoni Staggs can do it on his own, but there’s not a lot of genuine linebreakers in our team.

“They’re going to have to finesse with passes and structure – and that can be a little bit dangerous in Origin football.”

The series will kick off on Wednesday night at Accor Stadium in Sydney. 

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