Fittler set to lock in Blues team before final auditions

The group have ramped up their conversations in recent weeks but know it would take a miracle performance, injury or suspension to get them to alter their line-up.

It happened last year when prop David Klemmer played the house down for Canterbury on the final weekend and cemented his spot.


Fittler will officially announce the team on Sunday night at WIN Stadium after the Dragons and Cronulla clash.

Cleary plays against Parramatta on Thursday night without experienced partner James Maloney. Supercoach Wayne Bennett says neither player deserves to retain his spot in the Blues team.

Maloney will miss the trip to Bankwest Stadium because of suspension – which ends his own Origin quest – meaning Cleary will reunite with old under-20s halves partner Jarome Luai.

The pair played a huge role in leading the Panthers to the Holden Cup premiership in 2015.

Luai vowed to not only perform well for the spluttering Penrith, but do everything possible to help Cleary retain his representative role.

For all the criticism directed at his club – then later at him by Bennett – Cleary remains in a tight tussle with Reynolds for the coveted halfback spot.

Luai, who stole the show for Penrith in just his second NRL game while Cleary and Maloney were on Origin duty last year, said he knew 21-year-old Cleary’s game well, and the on-field chemistry was a bonus.

The 22-year-old Luai ignored interest from elsewhere to re-sign with Penrith last year, even though he knew he would need to bide his time behind Maloney. He has enjoyed Maloney’s feedback, and said coming off the bench filling in at hooker had improved his defence.

«I’ve been waiting for my opportunity and to play with Nath as well,» Luai said on Monday.

«We’re not going too well, but hopefully I can provide some spark in our attack and put some points on the board.

«Nath is putting his best foot forward, and it you really watch the games he’s one of the guys out there trying his best. He’s a young guy, there’s a lot of pressure on him, especially with his dad coaching him as well, but as a teammate of his, he’s one of the best guys leading us forward in this situation.


«He deserves that Blues jersey. It’s not his fault we’re going the way we’re going. I’m focused on Thursday’s game, and if we play well, I can help him as well.»

Keary goes on the road to Newcastle on Friday night against Pearce, the former teammate he labelled earlier this year as »skills wise, one of the best players I’ve ever played and trained with».

Then on Saturday night Reynolds and Walker will try to stretch South Sydney’s blazing record to 10 wins from 11 starts.

The other contentious spot that remains a huge mystery for the Blues is right centre. Unlike the halves debate, there are few options to choose from. James Roberts is no chance of returning to the team. Canberra’s Jack Wighton is firming but for a bench spot, not centre.

Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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