KURT Gidley has jumped to the defence of NSW winger Aku Uate and urged Blues coach Ricky Stuart to stick by his struggling Newcastle teammate.
Uate has enjoyed a meteoric rise since making his NRL debut in 2008, becoming first-choice on the right wing for both the Blues and Australia.
But the Fiji-born 24-year-old has been criticised for two poor defensive performances in this year’s State of Origin series, casting doubts on whether he will keep his spot for the decider in Brisbane on July 4.
Uate failed to attack a high bomb from Cooper Cronk in front of his own posts in Origin II on Wednesday night and Ben Hannant scored a try on the stroke of half-time in NSW’s 16-12 win in Sydney.
He was caught out midway through the second half when he failed to defuse a crossfield kick to his wing from Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis pounced for a record 14th try for the Maroons.
Uate came under fire for two of Queensland’s tries in the Maroons’ 18-10 win in game one in Melbourne.
Continuity has been one of Ricky Stuart’s buzzwords since he took over as Blues coach, but the form of Uate will give him plenty to consider.
Defeat will give Queensland their seventh successive series victory but former NSW skipper Gidley urged Stuart to keep faith with Uate, who has scored 58 tries in 79 games for the Knights.
‘‘A minute before half-time there was one mistake,’’ Gidley said. ‘‘Other than that one mistake I thought he carried the ball strong.
‘‘I thought a few of his reads in defence were great, he came in on Greg Inglis once and shut the ball down.
Despite Uate’s high-ball woes, Gidley, who is recovering for season-ending shoulder surgery, said the Knights favourite was a player Queensland would rather not face in attack.
‘‘Obviously people are going to remember the mistake before half-time, not catching the ball on the full,’’ he said. ‘‘But he’s still a guy I would fear getting past, that’s for sure.
‘‘I wouldn’t like to play against Aku, the way he carries the ball back from kick returns. He’s certainly a guy I would retain in the squad for sure.’’
If Stuart, who refused to give anything away about his plans, does decide Uate is too much of a liability then Brett Morris is likely to come in.
The Dragons flyer was called into the squad as 19th man in Sydney and played in games one and three last year. AAP