NSW State of Origin coach Laurie Daley has all but assured shock selection Dylan Walker of a Blues debut in the series-opener on Wednesday week.
The Manly utility was a stunning inclusion in the 19-man squad announced on Monday morning, despite being shifted from five-eighth by the Sea Eagles on Saturday.
Manly coach Trent Barrett conceded the former South Sydney star needed to move back to the centres to re-discover his love of the game, however Daley quickly defended the Walker decision.
“He’ll enjoy the challenge of being in this environment,” Daley said at The Star casino in Sydney on Monday.
“People still forget that Dylan’s only 21. He’s won a grand final, he’s played for Australia, played for a new club in a different position.
“He’s played fullback, centre, five-eighth, hasn’t played with the same team but he’s got plenty of ability and I’m confident he’ll go well on Wednesday week. I don’t think anyone would doubt his ability.”
Daley, in his fourth season in charge of the Blues, admitted he didn’t know what Walker’s best position was.
“But what I do know is that he’s a footballer,” he said.
“He adds a touch of class to the team, he’s got brilliant speed, plays on the ball and I’m sure tired forwards wouldn’t want to see the likes of Dylan Walker popping up in the middle of the park fresh.”
Walker is one of five newcomers named by Daley, including Adam Reynolds, Matt Moylan, Josh Mansour and Tyson Frizell, to take on the Maroons.
In-form Cronulla playmaker James Maloney has earned a recall and will partner Reynolds in the halves.
Daley said he named an extended squad to cover for Josh Dugan (elbow) and James Tamou.
“We have a couple of players in doubt, we don’t have to name a team for a while, so we will see how it goes,” Daley said.
Penrith star Bryce Cartwright had been included as a development player but was ruled out shortly after the team announcement due to a thumb injury, with a replacement to be named in coming days.
NSW squad: Greg Bird, Boyd Cordner, Josh Dugan, Robbie Farah, Blake Ferguson, Andrew Fifita, Tyson Frizell, Paul Gallen, Josh Jackson, Michael Jennings, David Klemmer, James Maloney, Josh Mansour, Josh Morris, Matt Moylan, Adam Reynolds, James Tamou, Dylan Walker, Aaron Woods.