The NSW Blues have been named for the first game of the 2017 #Origin series.
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Stacey Jones, Sione Faumuina and Tevita Latu are all back but Clinton Toopi is out for the Vodafone Warriors? NRL clash against the Roosters at Ericsson Stadium on Sunday. Halfback Jones was a late defection from last Saturday night?s encounter against Cronulla with a hamstring strain but has been cleared to play this weekend. Faumuina, sidelined since injuring a knee against Newcastle on April 17, makes his return partnering Jones in the halves and specialist hooker Latu comes onto the interchange bench after completing a three-match ban for a high tackle in last month?s loss to Wests Tigers. While those three have been welcomed back, 132-game veteran Awen Guttenbeil and his second-row partner Karl Temata ? both starters against Cronulla ? will be on the bench on Sunday with Kiwi centre Clinton Toopi left out of the squad completely. As a result head coach Tony Kemp and his selectors have made some positional switches, Jerome Ropati underlining his utility value with a shift to the centres, Lance Hohaia going to hooker, Louis Anderson into his more familiar spot in the second row and in-form Richard Villasanti joining him there. ?We?ve been proactive with these changes,? said Kemp. ?We?ve been doing a lot of things well, especially with our defence where we?ve found some consistency. But we?ve made these changes because we still want to lift the bar with our attack and the shape of the side in key positions.? Kemp said Toopi?s absence sent a message to the 104-game centre and to others in the squad. ?The depth in our squad has been a real strength this year,? he said. ?Whenever we have pulled someone in through injury, suspension or form, they have done the job for us. We want to see that continuing. ?In Clinton?s case, we have told him he has to get over his consistent lack of composure. He has been spoken to about it a number of times. We?ve put a line down in the stand but he keeps stepping over it. He can?t go around letting his team-mates down.? Meli, who has 53 tries in 97 NRL appearances, was treading a fine line as well. ?Francis is in on reputation at the moment but he has to start delivering on it.? Kemp said he and the coaching staff were still striving to find the right balance in the halves and at hooker. Hohaia and Ropati were tried at standoff initially and new buy Nathan Fien appealed as an outstanding option until the eye injury he received against Penrith sidelined him.
?It?s a position we need to get right and Nathan looked like doing that for us,? said Kemp. ?But Sione offers loads of ability there as well. We?ve had him in our considerations at standoff all along knowing he can bring a wide range of skills to the position. ?Louis has worked hard for us, and for the Kiwis, at hooker but he?s better-suited to the back row. He deserves the chance to start there. ?At the same time, Lance is familiar with the dummy half?s job which he has filled at different times in several matches. He?ll give us good service there as well as a kicking game. With Tevita back, we also have a specialist hooker to come off the bench.? Kemp had a special word for Ropati whose 20-match NRL career has already included starts in four positions ? standoff, wing, centre and fullback. ?Once again Jerome is the fix-it man for us,? said Kemp. ?When we need a position filled, he?s the man to do it because he has such all-round value as a utility.? Kemp also had special praise for former Kangaroo prop Villasanti, who?s now only six games short of becoming yet another 100-game NRL player in this year?s squad. ?His performances in the last few games have got him back into the frame and he deserves this selection,? he said. ?That?s tough on Awen but his experience hasn?t been forgotten and he?ll still have a big role to play from the bench.? Along with Toopi, interchange forwards Epalahame Lauaki and Evarn Tuimavave have also moved aside after the loss to Cronulla. Fien visited a specialist yesterday and is encouraged by the progress he has made but, as yet, no time frame has been placed on his return.
Young centre-second rower Simon Mannering has recovered from his foot injury and is back training.
1 BRENT WEBB 2 FRANCIS MELI 3 TODD BYRNE 4 JEROME ROPATI 5 MANU VATUVEI 6 SIONE FAUMUINA 7 STACEY JONES 8 RUBEN WIKI 9 LANCE HOHAIA 10 STEVE PRICE (C) 11 LOUIS ANDERSON 12 RICHARD VILLASANTI 13 WAIRANGI KOOPU
14 IAFETA PALEAAESINA 15 KARL TEMATA 16 AWEN GUTTENBEIL 17 TEVITA LATU