Pangai brushes Blues for Tonga
BRONCOS star Tevita Pangai Jr has dropped an Origin bombshell by quitting the Blues and formally committing to Tonga just days before the naming of the NSW and Queensland teams for Game One.
Pangai has contacted Brad Fittler to renounce his NSW ties as the Blues coach prepares to unveil his team on Sunday for the series opener at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday week.
In an admirable show of loyalty, Pangai has not only walked away from a potential $90,000 payday for three Origin games, he has urged Fittler to pick his Broncos teammates Payne Haas or Matt Lodge instead.
The Broncos wrecking ball made his Tonga Test debut in 2017 but revealed last year he was open to playing for NSW - prompting Fittler to select Pangai in his 32-man train-on squad last December.
Fittler was so intent on Pangai being a part of NSW's future he invited the 113kg powerhouse to a Blues team dinner in Brisbane in the lead-up to Origin III last year.
While Pangai has had a mixed season so far, he was being considered by NSW as a possible impact weapon off the bench for Origin I, but confirmed he will never play in the code's toughest arena."I've called 'Freddy' (Fittler) to tell him I won't be available for NSW," Pangai said.
"I want to make this clear … I was no certainty to be picked at all and I wasn't thinking I could just walk into a great NSW team, but I don't want to stuff a guy like Freddy around.
"I really appreciated Freddy's handling of it. He was really good about it and he gave me some advice on how to be more consistent. He wished me all the best and said he will consider other people.
"I pushed Payne Haas and Matt Lodge to Freddy. To be honest, they are playing better footy than me and I would rather see one of them wearing that NSW Origin jumper than me.
"I think it would mean more to them and I really hope they get a start for this year's series."
Pangai, who has played four Tests for Tonga, initially said 18 months ago that he had no desire to play State of Origin, but he had a change of heart midway through last season after Fittler dangled the NSW carrot.
However, the 23-year-old insists there will be no more representative backflips after a heart-to-heart with Tongan teammate Jason Taumalolo during the NRL's Magic Round a fortnight ago.
The Broncos forward will turn out for Tonga's Test against New Zealand on June 22 - 24 hours before the historic Origin II clash in Perth at the 60,000-capacity Optus Stadium.
"This is it now … I'm with Tonga for good," Pangai said.
"I had some people in my ear convincing me to play for NSW but after talking to Jase and Sio (Siua Taukeiaho), my heart is with Tonga.
"Freddy spoke to me before the series about playing for NSW. I was really honoured to be invited to the NSW team dinner last year, the guys were great to me and I could see the culture Freddy was trying to build.
"But for me there is no camp like being with the Tongan boys.
"I'm glad in my mind it is put to bed. Things are simpler now. I can focus on the Broncos and hopefully play well enough to wear that Tongan jersey."