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Wayne Bennett has rallied behind his five-eighth Cody Walker, saying the NSW rookie was "probably the star of the show" in State of Origin I despite his controversial second-half axing.
The Blues were leading 8-6 in the 56th minute on Wednesday when Walker was hooked from the field in favour of utility Jack Wighton.
By the time the South Sydney playmaker returned 15 minutes later, Queensland held an 18-8 advantage before Walker helped set up a late try that cut the deficit to four.
But the Maroons held on to claim a vital 1-0 lead in the three-game series.
Asked whether he was surprised by Walker's benching, Bennett, the Rabbitohs coach, said on Thursday: "I'd have to say I was, yeah."
Pressed on why he thought Blues coach Brad Fittler opted to take Walker off, Bennett said: "I've got no idea.
"But they were on even points and they weren't going to win with the amount of points they had. And that's what (Walker) does really well.
"That's the coach's decision. We don't always understand why they do it."
Fittler defended his decision to take Walker from the field after the match, saying he was having trouble finding his groove.
The 29-year-old finished the night with two line break assists - one in the lead-up to NSW's second try - a line break, three tackle busts and three carries for 30 metres.
"I thought at the end, he was probably the star of the show," Bennett said.
"In the last 10 minutes there he set up one try, and they scored another one through good lead-up work that he did.
"Origin can take you that long to get into rhythm. He's never played before. It's a different standard of playing in the NRL and he hasn't played a lot of finals games.
"So I thought he did a pretty good job considering it was his first game and the way the game was played."
Asked if he thought Walker deserves to keep his spot for game two, Bennett said: 'He's a first-gamer. He wasn't the reason they lost.
"There's a lot more upside in him. I think he showed that in the last 10 minutes of the game where he was starting to get into the groove a little bit.
"Opportunities came and he grabbed it."
© AAP 2019