Ricky, is it a State of Origin or a State of Confusion?
Ricky Stuart illustration by David Green Cartoonist
Ricky Stuart was supposed to bring New South Wales some long overdue Origin success, pride and stability. As it stands right now, Ricky has largely brought New South Wales confusion, contradiction and in-fighting.
When Matt Cooper and Jamie Lyon withdrew themselves from Origin contention early last season, my initial reaction was one of disappointment and bewilderment. How could these two players, both of whom would still be capable of playing in the Origin arena, not want to play for their state?
Fast-forward 12 months and with the benefit of hindsight, their ‘count me out’ declarations are now perfectly understandable. If anything, its surprising that more New South Wales players haven’t done the same.
Lets take a look at the reasons why…
In the run in to last year’s Origin series, Ricky rambles on about the need to build a ‘core’ of established New South Wales players to build a team around in the coming years. Yet, somehow that ‘core’ has now become limited to a grand total of two players: Paul Gallen (understandably) and Kurt Gidley (who’s yearly Origin brain-snaps have led to him becoming a laughing stock north of the border).
Ricky declares Jarryd Hayne, NSW’s most damaging and highest-scoring back-line player over the last few years a ‘five-eighth’ and therefore omits him from Game One of the 2011 series due to his declaration of not picking players ‘out of position’. This fiercely divided what was supposed to be a united New South Wales public heading into the 2011 series. After the Blues lost game one, Ricky put Hayne straight back in ‘out of position’ at both wing and centre for the second and third games of the series.
Despite playing for Australia several weeks before, an in-form Jamal Idris is left to languish as 18th man heading into the 2011 series. A position from which he would not progress.
In the weeks before kick-off to the 2012 NRL season, Ricky speaks of his desire to see Terry Campese in the New South Wales number 6 jersey. This is the same Terry Campese who had barely played a minute of football in over a year.
Ricky declares his intention to only pick players who want to play for NSW. Only for Matt Cooper to receive a last-minute SOS phone-call the night before the Game One side is announced last year.
After all the talk of New South Wales pride, passion and ‘origin-culture’ prior to last years series, Ricky the realist suddenly shoots a bullet straight through any sense of real New South Wales confidence by declaring he will be satisfied with a 2-1 series loss.
Ricky subtly declares the City versus Country game as an Origin trial game, when it’s clear to all but the most dim-witted that it isn’t. If it was, Ryan Hinchcliffe would have been wearing a Blues jersey last year.
Steve Turner could score five tries for City this Sunday, but still won’t have a prayer’s chance of pulling on a blue jersey on May 23rd in Melbourne.
As we all know, heading into last years Origin, The Blues had lost the last five series in a row. Hence, this type of pussyfooting around, petty grievances and flip-flopping was the last thing New South Wales needed. Here we are a year later and its déjà vu all over again.
We all know the recent mind-benders heading into the coming series. Due to some irrational and stubborn unwillingness to even consider the idea of playing Jarryd Hayne in his natural fullback position for NSW, the Parramatta custodian will play five-eighth at Ricky’s behest in the upcoming City versus Country game.
Meanwhile, New Zealander James Tamou is supposedly poached into Australian eligibility with the covert promise of a New South Wales jersey, no doubt irritating New South Wales born and bred forwards everywhere.
And of course there’s the saga of Mitchell Pearce. The young halfback New South Wales has spent significant time blooding in the role the last two series for the purpose of building some sense of stability, now looks set to be dropped for the time being. Granted, Peter Wallace has been playing great football for the Broncos this year, but should he fail for New South Wales on May 23rd, Mitchell Pearce will be recalled quicker than you can say ‘chop-and-change’.
Meanwhile, the ageing Danny Buderus appears set to regain the New South Wales hooking role before riding off into the sunset of retirement.
Granted, Ricky cannot be blamed entirely for all this selection confusion and a few of his moves have been positive. The reinvigorated sense of New South Wales pride and passion at ANZ Stadium last year was visible for all to see. A game in which Stuart’s gamble of playing nineteen year-old Will Hopoate ‘out of position’ in the centres came up trumps and the movement of Paul Gallen into the front-row proved to be a masterstroke.
Everyone has their own idea of who should be picked and who shouldn’t, not to mention all the ‘expert pundits’ droning on about the wonderfully over-used term ‘form’ (something which can change from week-to-week).
This ‘too many cooks stirring the broth’ scenario has only fuelled the lack of stability in New South Wales selection over the years. The old English football adage “form is temporary, class is permanent” seems absent among rugby league heads for some strange reason.
It appears one not-so-great club performance on a random Sunday afternoon is enough to wipe out a potential New South Wales player’s selection chances entirely, even if they have delivered in that arena before.
Then of course, there’s the haters. The green-eyed souls polluting opinion polls everywhere, who wish to see a player omitted from the New South Wales side solely due to the fact that they ‘don’t like them” for whatever usually childish reason.
These matters aside however, Ricky Stuart must stand chiefly accountable for the sense of confusion currently riding New South Wales into the 2012 series.
Right now, Queensland are once again sitting back with approximately sixteen of their seventeen man squad set and ready to go.
One of those seventeen players will be the currently ‘out-of-form’ Darius Boyd. Although he may be struggling at club level at present, as a naturally classy and proven Origin player, Boyd will retain the faith of Mal Meninga and the Queensland public.
NSW could learn something from this (form is temporary, class is permanent). South of the border however, the New South Wales public are once again left scratching their heads in regards to not only who will play in this years series, but who should play where and when. Although a strong sense of New South Wales pride and passion may have returned in last years series, the overall situation hasn’t progressed under Stuart’s direction.
With all this in mind, what can we expect from New South Wales on May 23rd in Melbourne? Don’t be surprised if Jarryd Hayne is omitted from the New South Wales team entirely again (only to receive a recall for the rest of the series). Don’t be surprised if the City/Country game’s man-of-the-match winner is nowhere to be seen and shock inclusion Willie Mason takes the field in a blue jersey (it wouldn’t be any more out of left field than Jason King’s unforeseen and unrepeated inclusion last year).
One thing is certain; should the Blues lose in Melbourne, heads will role once again with certain players to be dropped/recalled for game two.
There’s no question Ricky Stuart does possess a great deal of passion for New South Wales Origin and despite all this insanity, should Ricky coach the Blues to a series win this year, all will be forgiven. But there’s a chance he wont.
Lockyer or no Lockyer, the current Queensland squad will be as classy, confident and strong-willed as ever. While he may have been satisfied with an almost-series-win last year, for Ricky, failure this year is simply not an option.
He wasn’t given the New South Wales coaching job to lose two more series. Anything less than a series win for The Blues in 2012 will lead to Ricky being shown the door and his current coaching stint being remembered as nothing but a passionate shambles.
NSW have the cattle to finally beat Queensland in this year’s series. A team including the collective talent of Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis, Jarryd Hayne, Akuila Uate, Michael Jennings, Josh Morris, Tony Williams, Todd Carney, Trent Merrin and Greg Bird to name a just a few could cause problems for any opposition. The cattle just needs to be herded wisely, calmly and correctly.
For New South Wales sake, one had better hope there is a method in Ricky’s madness.
Portrait of Willie Mason by sports caricaturist David Green. Caricatures are great for birthdays and gifts. Go to davidgreen.com.au
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