NSW coach Laurie Daley describes halfback Trent Hodkinson as the man you need for a crisis, which is why he is gambling on the out-of-sorts playmaker for this State of Origin series opener.
The Blues will head into Origin I without injured skipper Paul Gallen, the suspended Greg Bird and backline staples Jarryd Hayne and Brett Morris.
Hodkinson copped plenty of criticism for lacklustre form this season but Daley said he valued the 26-year-old’s steadying personality and influence.
He felt that would take on extra importance for the Origin opener on May 27 in Sydney where injured skipper Paul Gallen, the suspended Greg Bird and backline staples Jarryd Hayne and Brett Morris would all be absentees.
“In State of Origin when it can get a bit helter-skelter, you need someone to be able to stay calm and be composed and give direction and make sure that he can keep other guys’ minds on the job,” Daley said after naming his team on Tuesday.
“And that’s what I learnt with Trent last year.
“If you’re looking for someone that is going to come up with a miracle play in terms of chip and chasing and take intercepts, we’ve got the wrong person.
“But if you want someone in a crisis or if you want someone to control the game, then he’s your man.”
Hodkinson will be partnered by recalled Rooster Mitchell Pearce, who will play five-eighth for the first time since making his first grade debut in 2007.
Pearce was axed from the Blues team by Daley in 2014 after being arrested in Kings Cross for drunken misbehaviour.
Prior to that he had played 11 straight games at halfback between 2010-13 and had copped plenty of criticism for not steering the Blues to a series win.
“It’s a harsh judgment from people because there were a lot of other people in the same boat as Mitch. They weren’t getting as crucified as Mitch had,” Daley said.
“But he’s really comfortable where he’s at now. I don’t think the speculation these days concerns him as it did when he was a lot younger.”
The biggest selection surprise was the omission of utility Luke Lewis.
In a side giving up 165 games worth of Origin experience to the Maroons, Daley opted for a more youthful line-up and omitted the likes of Lewis and Anthony Watmough.
Daley said it was a tough decision to leave Lewis, a veteran of 17 NSW games, out of the side, but said the current form of debutant Josh Jackson was just as difficult to ignore.
“It’s always tough, given the number one thing you look for in a player is whether he’s a good person or not. Luke ticks that box,” Daley said.
“And then you’ve got to weigh up whether you stick with them or whether you think you need to go in another direction with someone that’s been playing good football for a number of years, a little bit younger, and you can’t deny him an opportunity.
“That’s basically what we’ve done.
“Utility-wise, you’ve seen over the last few years Josh Jackson play hooker, five-eighth, centres for the Bulldogs. You’ve got Beau Scott there that can play outside backs.”
Bulldogs prop David Klemmer was also chosen to make his Blues debut and, alongside Andrew Fifita, Boyd Cordner and Trent Merrin, forms a bench that outweighs Queensland’s by over 40 kilograms.
However Daley denied size was a factor in his selection process.
“The key for me was to pick the best people who I thought could get the job done,” he said.
“We’ve got some really big guys, but if we don’t hold onto the ball, the night will become pretty tough for us.”