Knights young gun Bradman Best will make his State of Origin debut for the Blues in the third and final game of the series next Wednesday, with NSW desperate to avoid a whitewash.
The 21-year-old is fighting fit this NRL season, scoring a career first hat-trick for Newcastle in the side’s ruthless 66 – nil win over the Bulldogs on Sunday afternoon, stating his case for selection.
Best played at a junior level for the Blues and will now make the step up to the top-tier competition, replacing an injured Tom Trbojevic in the centres.
Fellow Knight Jacob Saifiti also earned a call-up for NSW and is named on a new-look interchange bench. J-Saf made his Origin debut in last year’s Game III but missed out on inclusion in the opening two matches of the 2023 campaign.
Veteran Tyson Frizell is one of five big names to be cut as Blues Coach Brad Fittler swings the axe following the series loss to Queensland in Game II.
Meantime, the Maroons have named AJ Brimson at fullback, the Gold Coast Titans No. 1 coming in for Reece Walsh after Kalyn Ponga made it clear he was having no second thoughts about ruling himself out.
“I’ve already spoken with Billy (Slater) and I thanked him actually for not picking me for Game I and thanked him for allowing me to get back to playing footy… It wasn’t until I stepped back and realised what I needed,” Ponga said after Newcastle’s drubbing of Canterbury on the eve of Origin team announcements.
The Knights skipper was sidelined after suffering a string of head knocks which saw the 25-year-old seek out concussion specialists in Canada, before returning to play a stint at five-eighth before ultimately returning to fullback. In the midst of that highly disrupted start to the season, Ponga withdrew himself from Origin consideration.
After firing on all cylinders for Newcastle in recent weeks, pundits wondered whether the suspension of Reece Walsh would prompt a change of heart, however Ponga was quick to state his intentions remained unchanged.
“I still want to stick to that and I still want to focus on the Knights, our season is definitely not done,” he told reporters during the Knights post-match press conference at Accor Stadium in Sydney.
Newcastle remain in 14th position on the NRL ladder but are within three wins of the top eight with a bye and eight rounds remaining in the regular season.
Ponga said he was committed to putting everything he had mentally and physically towards the Knights run home.
“I won’t be playing Origin III but whoever they put back there will definitely do a job.”
Game III of the series will be played at Sydney’s Accor Stadium on July 12.