‘Eyes painted on’: NRL greats blast ‘strange’ omission from NSW Blues Origin squad

There were always going to be some unlucky players to miss out on State of Origin selection, and the omission of Api Koroisau from NSW’s squad has raised eyebrows.

With a slew of injuries ruling stars out, new Blues coach Michael Maguire named a new look squad on Sunday night.

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Nicho Hynes will be given every chance to recover from a calf injury in time to partner Jarome Luai in the halves for Game 1 next Wednesday.

In an extended 20-man squad, Maguire has chosen six debutants — Dylan Edwards, Joseph Sua’ali’i, Zac Lomax, Cameron McInnes, Spencer Leniu and Haumole Olakau’atu.

Incumbent fullback James Tedesco has been dropped for Edwards, while Manly’s Jake Trbojevic will take over as NSW captain. There was also no room for Latrell Mitchell in the backline.

But one of the biggest calls was Maguire choosing Cowboys hooker Reece Robson over wily veteran Api Koroisau.

Koroisau has played four Origin games compared to Robson’s three appearances, and many expected the 31-year-old to be picked in recognition of his strong form for the struggling Wests Tigers.

“I think Reece has just been very strong, Maguire explained at his press conference on Monday.

“He’s been consistent on both sides of the ball, defensively and with the ball. That’s just the way I chose to go.

“Yeah I spoke to Api. Api’s a great man. Obviously I’ve got to make some decisions but I’m really confident with what Reece can do. He’s a strong player.”

Koroisau didn’t cross paths with Maguire during his stint as Tigers coach, but he played under ‘Madge’ in South Sydney’s 2014 Grand Final win before moving to Penrith where he won two more premierships.

“I think it is a strange decision,” James Graham said on Triple M’s Sunday Sin Bin.

“Koroisau has been outstanding in a team that’s not played well. Nothing against other candidates. Reece Robson, he will be great, but I think Koroisau’s deception in and around dummy-half would be so valuable.

“He’s the best in the Tigers team each and every week and I think it’s a big call not to be in there … it’s a strange one for me.”

Former Tigers centre Chris Lawrence was scathing of Koroisau’s omission on social media.

Lawrence wrote on X: “Just saw the NSW Origin side, is that a gee up or has Api actually been left out?

“No disrespect to Reece Robson I think he is a great player and should be in the side with Api.

“But if Api isn’t the best 9 in NSW and on par with Harry Grant as the best 9 in the game, then I probably have my eyes painted on.”

Nine’s The Mole tweeted: “Moley would have gone Api though … Robson good player but wasn’t great at this level last year.”

Previously, Brad Fittler opted to play two hookers (combination of Robson, Koroisau and Damien Cook) in the same team of 17 — a strategy that proved ill founded and a waste of the No. 14 utility bench spot.

Cronulla workhorse McInnes can play anywhere in the forward pack and could play some minutes at dummy-half.

Earlier this month, Koroisau left a game with a cork to his back and Tigers coach Benji Marshall said he was dealing with some nerve damage and pain.

On Monday morning Billy Slater confirmed Queensland’s squad for Game 1, leaving out David Fifita in a major selection shock and naming Tom Dearden as replacement for the injured Cameron Munster.

NSW Blues squad for State of Origin Game 1

1. Dylan Edwards (Panthers)

2. Brian To’o (Panthers)

3. Stephen Crichton (Bulldogs)

4. Joseph Suaali’i (Roosters)

5. Zac Lomax (Dragons)

6. Jarome Luai (Panthers)

7. Nicho Hynes (Sharks)

8. Jake Trbojevic, captain (Sea Eagles)

9. Reece Robson (Cowboys)

10. Payne Haas (Broncos)

11. Liam Martin (Panthers)

12. Angus Crichton (Roosters)

13. Cameron McInnes (Sharks)

14. Isaah Yeo (Panthers)

15. Haumole Olakau’atu (Sea Eagles)

16. Spencer Leniu (Roosters)

17. Hudson Young (Raiders)

18. Matt Burton (Bulldogs)

19. Luke Keary (Roosters)

20. Mitch Barnett (Warriors)

Coach: Michael Maguire

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