Campbell Graham in Origin twist as shock Blues, Maroons calls explained

The shock move comes after the Origin hopeful's controversial snub.

Campbell Graham (centre) was originally picked in Brad Fittler's NSW side to take on the QLD team coached by  Billy Slater (R) in State of Origin Game I. Pic: Nine/Getty
Campbell Graham (centre) was originally picked in Brad Fittler's NSW side to take on the QLD team coached by Billy Slater (R) in State of Origin Game I. Pic: Nine/Getty

In-form Rabbitohs star Campbell Graham could be free to line up for the NRL ladder-leaders against Canberra this weekend, despite initially being picked in the extended NSW squad for the State of Origin opener in Adelaide on May 31. Graham - who has arguably been the competition's best centre in 2023 - was named as 18th man in the Blues squad announced on Monday morning.

However, after joining the Blues' playing group at Coogee on Monday morning, Graham was then released from the squad, with Blues officials citing a sternum injury as the issue. The setback for the South Sydney star has seen Penrith centre Stephen Crichton drafted in to the NSW squad instead of Graham as the team's concussion substitute.

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The Rabbitohs released a club statement on Monday confirming Graham's withdrawal from the Blues' Origin camp, and suggested that he may be a chance to feature in the NRL this weekend. “For a number of weeks, Graham has been managing his training loads at the beginning of each week to allow him to be fit on game day,” the club statement read.

“Unfortunately, this meant he would not be able to be fully involved in the Blues early sessions this week and, as a result, they withdrew him from the squad. “Graham will return to the Rabbitohs squad today and he will be assessed throughout the week as to whether he is fit to play in Saturday’s game against the Canberra Raiders.”

Graham can consider himself extremely unlucky to miss out on a starting spot for NSW, with Tom Trbojevic's hat-trick against Canberra on Sunday cementing his centre role alongside Latrell Mitchell and Kangaroos World Cup winner Josh Addo-Carr showing enough for the Bulldogs in his return game. Addo-Carr's first game back included a try after the flyer spent five weeks sidelined following syndesmosis surgery.

The biggest Blues shock came when another Bulldogs star, Tevita Pangai Jr, won the race to replace Jake Trbojevic at prop after the Manly player pulled up sore from the win over the Raiders. Fittler says he likes what he's seen from the Canterbury wrecking ball, even if his selection was somewhat of a "gamble".

“It’s all a gamble isn’t it? That’s what it’s all about,” Fittler said on Monday. “I can see that teams are intimidated by him. I think at times he probably hasn’t handled that well either, but I’ve just always liked him.

“He’s super talented. I think it’s always just a matter of him getting that next level of control, showing leadership and when I talk to people at Canterbury they say he’s a great trainer. prepares excellently. If it’s a risk, again? Yeah we’ll have a gamble.”

NSW and QLD coaches spring selection shocks

The NSW coach said giving Apisai Koroisau the nod ahead of incumbent Blues hooker Damien Cook was one of his toughest decisions, while admitting that Tom Trbojevic's selection was another "gamble" he couldn't resist. “We always considered Tommy fit and available. You talk about gambles - you’ve just got to gamble that he’s going to be ready,” Fittler added. “Very rarely has he ever let us down .. (we had him in with) a very heavy lead pencil, very dark.”

Billy Slater and the Maroons selectors also sprang a number of shocks, with superstar fullback Kalyn Ponga sensationally overlooked in favour of Brisbane young gun Reece Walsh. Slater could also find no place in his side for veteran Knights centre, Dane Gagai, ending the 32-year-old's run of 22 consecutive Origin Games for the Maroons.

Dane Gagai and Kalyn Ponga were both overlooked for the QLD Maroons side for State of Origin Game I. Pic: Getty
Dane Gagai and Kalyn Ponga were both overlooked for the QLD Maroons side for State of Origin Game I. Pic: Getty

Gagai was dropped for Dolphins flyer Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, despite frequently starring for the Maroons in past series. "That was the hardest phone call I had to make," Slater said about Gagai. "We all know what Dane Gagai brings to the footy team. Hamiso has been playing great too.

"Sometimes we can focus on who is not there. Now it is time to focus on who is there and building a game plan and having our players at their best for Wednesday week."

Slater also had to call Ponga, Kurt Capewell and Xavier Coates with bad news, with Brisbane fullback Reece Walsh, Gold Coast wrecking ball David Fifita and North Queensland winger Murray Taulagi chosen instead. "I spoke to Kalyn last night and I had to make some really tough phone calls last night," Slater said.

"Those four guys are Queenslanders through and through. By the end of the conversations they were all really supportive of this team. They all want success for this team. They are great men and great Queenslanders."

LIKELY QLD STARTING TEAM FOR GAME I

Reece Walsh, Selwyn Cobbo, Valentine Holmes, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Murray Taulagi, Cameron Munster, Daly Cherry-Evans (C), Thomas Flegler, Ben Hunt, Lindsay Collins, Tom Gilbert, David Fifita, Patrick Carrigan. Interchange: Harry Grant, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Reuben Cotter, Jai Arrow, Tom Dearden (18th man)

LIKELY NSW STARTING TEAM FOR GAME I

James Tedesco, Brian To'o, Latrell Mitchell, Tom Trbojevic, Josh Addo-Carr, Jarome Luai, Nathan Cleary, Payne Haas, Apisai Koroisau, Tevita Pangai Jr, Tyson Frizell, Hudson Young, Isaah Yeo. Interchange: Nicho Hynes, Junior Paulo, Liam Martin, Cameron Murray, Stephen Crichton (18th man)

with AAP

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