WATCHING Jamie Buhrer pass out of dummy half as Manly warmed up at Brookvale Oval before last weekend's match against Canberra helped convince Ricky Stuart that the versatile Sea Eagle was the man to replace Kurt Gidley as the NSW bench utility.
Buhrer was one of four Origin debutants named last night in the 17-man Blues squad. Stuart said Buhrer's ability to cover for recalled Wests Tigers hooker Robbie Farah had ensured his selection.
''Probably the most difficult decision I had was how I was going to balance my bench - what type of utility I wanted,'' Stuart said. ''I have got a couple of utilities there in Greg Bird and Luke Lewis but I was looking for a … Kurt Gidley-style of player.
''There is no one out there with that type of ability in regards to a utility player such as Kurt Gidley but I have really liked what I have seen in Jamie Buhrer. I have got a second hooker there in case I need one, I have got a player there who can handle back row, he has played centre … and he has also played in a grand final. He has been involved in a big preparation before.''
Sharks five-eighth Todd Carney, Cowboys prop James Tamou and Sea Eagles strike forward Tony Williams are the Blues' other debutants, but all have played for Australia. Buhrer made his 39th NRL appearance in Manly' s 24-22 win over Brisbane on Friday night, and Stuart said another strong performance in that match had sealed the 22-year-old's spot.
However, his selection may have come at a cost to his Manly teammate Anthony Watmough, who was overlooked despite playing in last month's Test against New Zealand. Watmough was cleared of a neck injury that forced him from the field against the Broncos but Stuart said the fact he wouldn't have been able to train until later in the week had counted against him.
Stuart had no concerns selecting Williams after a nine week lay-off and said he had been in regular contact with Sea Eagles trainer Don Singe about his fitness. Williams gained the nod ahead of North Queensland's Tariq Sims, with Stuart's desire to have a utility on the bench meaning he could not carry the two forwards.