Fittler dangles Origin carrot in front of Pangai Junior
NSW Origin coach Brad Fittler has dangled a carrot in front of Tevita Pangai Junior as the Brisbane sensation gets set to decide whether his allegiance lies with the Blues or Tonga.
The 22-year-old has been named in a 32-man squad to attend a NSW Blues camp at the NSWRL's Centre of Excellence in Sydney next month.
After a boom year for the Broncos, the powerhouse back-rower is facing a career-defining decision over the next six months.
He remains eligible for both the Blues and Tonga because the Mate Ma'a are classified as a second-tier nation.
But like Andrew Fifita this year, he will be forced to make a decision at some point.
New Zealand and Tonga are set to meet in a mid-year Test during the 2019 representative round, on the same weekend as Origin II in Perth.
It's understood Fittler has extended the invitation to Pangai Junior in the hope he'll choose the Blues, but is not trying to place any pressure on him.
Pangai has frequently expressed his passion for the Tongan jersey but this year said he was seriously considering the lure of sky blue jersey for 2019.
Fittler said on Friday ahead of the NSW camp: "For most of them it will be the first time we've seen them since after the series.
"It puts a full stop on finalising the year and getting their feedback from this year's series and also allows us an opportunity to look ahead for our defence of the shield in 2019.
"It's always beneficial to get them to spend time together. We won't be training but having them around each other will only further strengthen the bond they formed this year."
Pangai Junior is one of seven players in the squad who have not played Origin, along with Nick Cotric, Dale Finucane, Cameron Murray, Ryan James, Luke Keary and Jordan McLean.
While they have not played for their state, Keary and McLean have represented Australia.
As well as the 19 players who were a part of this year's series-winning side, Fittler has also invited six players who were dropped after he wiped the slate clean with a new-look squad.
Despite being overlooked this year, Mitchell Pearce, Blake Ferguson, Josh Jackson, Aaron Woods, Jack Bird and Wade Graham have all been included, with Fittler signalling to them not to give up on their chances of a recall.
Extended Origin squad:
Jack Bird (Brisbane Broncos)
Reagan Campbell-Gillard (Penrith Panthers)
Nathan Cleary (Penrith Panthers)
Josh Addo-Carr (Melbourne Storm)
Damien Cook (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Nick Cotric (Canberra Raiders)
Boyd Cordner (Sydney Roosters)
Angus Crichton (Sydney Roosters)
Jack De Belin (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Dale Finucane (Melbourne Storm)
Blake Ferguson (Parramatta Eels)
Tyson Frizell (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Wade Graham (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks)
Ryan James (Gold Coast Titans)
Josh Jackson (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs)
Luke Keary (Sydney Roosters)
David Klemmer (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs)
James Maloney (Penrith Panthers)
Jordan McLean (North Queensland Cowboys)
Latrell Mitchell (Sydney Roosters)
Cameron Murray (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Tyrone Peachey (Gold Coast Titans)
Mitchell Pearce (Newcastle Knights)
Tevita Pangai Junior (Brisbane Broncos)
Matt Prior (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks)
James Roberts (Brisbane Broncos)
Tariq Sims (St George Illawarra Dragons)
James Tedesco (Sydney Roosters)
Jake Trbojevic (Manly Warringah Sea Eagles)
Tom Trbojevic (Manly Warringah Sea Eagles)
Paul Vaughan (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Aaron Woods (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks)