Gold Coast coach Garth Brennan has made an impassioned plea for NSW selectors to stick with Titans hooker Nathan Peats for the State of Origin opener in Melbourne on June 6, claiming criticism of the tough rake has been "unwarranted and harsh."
Peats was outstanding on debut in game one last year, and did his job in the remaining two games, but has been cast aside by seemingly every pundit with the table-leaders Dragons No.9 Cameron McInnes or South Sydney's Damien Cook tipped to debut for the Blues.
Peats missed a month's action due to a rib injury before returning last weekend against the Knights. It means Saturday's clash with the Roosters at Central Coast Stadium will be only his second appearance since round six.
"I think the criticism of Nathan Peats has been unwarranted and harsh because he is exactly what Origin is; he is made for Origin, Nathan Peats," Brennan said.
"He puts his body on the line, he's a player who other players want to play with and they know he'll give his heart and soul.
"He's missed a few weeks with injury, but Nathan showed last year with what he did in Origin that's he's up to it.
"They only got beaten in the last couple of minutes in game two and otherwise they win the series and it's a whole new kettle of fish [selection wise]."
Peats' courageous defensive effort for the Blues on debut (he made 53 tackles) earned him widespread praise last year. Former Blues prop Mark Geyer said at the time: "I think everyone in NSW, particularly the ones who play around him, realise Nathan Peats is an Origin hooker ... we've got someone special here."
Matthew Johns added: "He kind of went through the game invisible yet did so much. What he did in the defence was unbelievable. One of the great debuts."
Now many are predicting Brad Fittler opts for a more attacking hooker for the 2018 series.
Peats played conservatively for the Blues and does not run as frequently as McInnes or Cook.
McInnes has averaged 58.3 running metres per game and has three four assists and five line-break assists to his credit, while Cook has run for an average 108 metres with three try-assists and three line-break assists.
Peats has run for 38.4 metres with no try or line-break assists in his seven appearances for the Titans in 2018, yet has more often been looking for opportunities.
Brennan hinted that Peats was told to act purely as a service dummy-half and tackler last year for NSW and should not be penalised for that.
"I want Nathan Peats to run," he said. "If you want him to go out and run, I'm sure Peatsy will do that. When I ask him to run, he does.
"It depends what instructions he was under last year in Origin. I saw media reports where they just wanted a dummy half to feed the halfbacks.
"You can't ask that of the player and then criticise him if he doesn't run."
The NSW team will be announced on Monday.
In Titans team news, Konrad Hurrell has travelled to Sydney with a 19-man squad as cover for Phillip Sami, who suffered a calf injury in training and is in slight doubt for Saturday's game.
If he drops out, Brenko Lee would head to the wing and Hurrell would play right centre.