Is Tevita Pangai Junior the biggest selection shock of Brad Fittler’s reign with the Blues? Coach explains why he made his debut with the Dogs star – but fans are angry
- Fittler admitted he had to take risks
- Has long been an admirer of Pangai Junior
- New South Wales fans aren’t so sure
New South Wales manager Brad Fittler rolled the dice on his biggest selection bet yet and fans were stunned and confused ahead of State of Origin’s May 31 opener.
The eccentric Blues manager is no stranger to controversy, relegating Damien Cook to the bench and transporting Daniel Saifiti from the Origin desert into the past.
But his call to bring in Bulldogs enforcer Tevita Pangai Junior left many scratching their heads, including the forward himself.
“I’m shocked just as much as you guys are. It’s a big dream for me to play Origin and I hope I can play,” Pangai Junior said this morning.
We [Canterbury] are building a strong team and hopefully this will attract more players to come to the Bulldogs.
“It took me a while to find my feet, but hopefully I can maintain the good performance.”
Pangai Junior was stunned to learn of his selection – and he was far from the only one
Fittler, pictured with former Maroons champion Johnathan Thurston, took big risks in a bid to beat a strong Queensland side
Some fans believed the selection of Pangai Junior was a case of mistaken identity and South Sydney mainstay Tevita Tatola should have been called up.
Many New South Wales fans were shocked by the decision, with many saying Pangai Junior isn’t even his team’s best accessory.
They might have a point, with Bulldog Max King averaging 123 yards per game, including almost 42 yards after contact, as well as 38 tackles per game at a 94.8% effectiveness rate.
Pangai Junior is averaging 129 yards per game, 42 yards after contact and 25 tackles per game with a 90.0% effectiveness rate.
Others joked that Fittler called the wrong Tevita, saying South Sydney mainstay Tevita Tatola should have been called.
Tevita Pangai Jr to play for the Blues guesses our injury crisis is bad.
Have we ever tried to clone Payne Haas?
— William Wood (@TheWilliamWood) May 21, 2023
Rampaging Parramatta striker Reagan Campbell-Gillard was unavailable with a groin injury while Daniel Saifiti, former Kangaroos representative Jordan McLean and former Blues players David Klemmer and Jack de Belin have been overlooked.
Second rowers controversially omitted include raging Sea Eagles striker Haumole Olakau’atu and Roosters star Angus Crichton, while South Sydney firebrand Keaon Koloamatangi remains injured.
Former Blues and Newcastle star Matthew Johns says the way Pangai is being 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 says on SEN.
It could be a key career risk for the Blues manager, who is under pressure after his star-studded Blues lost to Queensland in the last series.
Fittler said he felt the team had been bullied by the Queensland pack in 2022 and needed to make changes.
“We had to make some big calls,” Fittler told Channel Nine.
Newcastle prop Daniel Saifiti, centre, was unlucky not to have been called up by Blues manager Brad Fittler
North Queensland Cowboys and former Australian striker Jordan McLean, centre, were chosen by the Blues last year but injury ruled him out. This time he wasn’t so lucky
‘We had a few back rowers – Angus [Crichton] and Liam Martin – who hadn’t played most of the year. I’ve been a long time Tevita fan – a very skilled and tough guy.
“I like what they are doing at Canterbury at the moment. They don’t win every game, but what they do is they don’t give up.
“Watching what he does off the ball excites me that he becomes a much better player. If Tevita can fix those parts of his game, the talent part is already there.
Fittler also admitted it was a tough phone call when he told Cook he didn’t make the cut because he preferred Wests rake Apisai Koroisau.
“Over the last two weeks, I think Api’s form, his relationship with a few of the players on our team – there’s been a long relationship despite the big games,” Fittler said.
‘Cooky has been in such good shape. I called him last night to talk about footy…and assured me that if anything happened he would be our man if things went wrong.