NSW’s Origin ordeal

John Davidson Roar Guru

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    Another Origin series, another loss for the Blues. The NSW nightmare continues.

    Every year the Blues faithful think this is the year when Queensland’s dominance will be broken. When the streak will finally end. When Big Mal Meninga, Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Johnathan Thurston, Greg Inglis and co. will surely be beaten.

    And every year they’re disappointed.

    Since 2006 Queensland has won every Origin series. That 2006 series victory was an important one – it was the first the Maroons had won since 2001. The 2002 series was drawn, meaning the win went to Queensland, but NSW captured the next three series in a row.

    The boys in blue looked to be flying.

    2006 was a close but crucial win for the Maroons, taking a 2-1 series victory after edging a tight contest 16-14 in Game 3.

    In 2007 Queensland won the first two games, in 2008 a six-point win in Game 3 won it for them, in 2009 they again won the first two games and in 2010 they did the same again.

    In 2011 it was a close series, Queensland getting it 2-1 with a 10-point Game 3 triumph and 2012 was even closer, a Cooper Cronk field goal in Game 3 being the only difference.

    This year NSW were dominant in Game 1, the Maroons were even more dominant in Game 2, while in Game 3 there was only a two-point differential, again to the banana benders.

    Many times the Cockroaches have been very close, for example there has never been a clean sweep since 2006, but there has been ultimately no cigar.

    Eight series in a row for Queensland. It’s a sentence that sits uneasily with any New South Welshman.

    So how have the Maroons managed to keep the Blues at bay year after year? What is the secret and can their stronghold be broken?

    Their dominance is down to a few things. Yes, this is probably the best Queensland team of all-time. When you can put players of the ilk of Greg Inglis and Darius Boyd in other non-favoured positions, or the likes of Cooper Cronk or Daly Cherry-Evans on the bench, you have some impressive talent to call on.

    Darren Lockeyer, Smith, Slater, Thurston, Inglis, Cronk, Justin Hodges, Sam Thaiday etc. could mix it with Allan Langer, Wally Lewis, Gene Miles, Meninga, Bob Linder, Gary Belcher and Dale Shearer.

    Consistency for the Maroons, through the squad and in the coaching ranks, has been a big help too. Mal Meninga has been in charge of the team since 2006 and he knows all about the Origin pressure-cooker, the man played in enough of them to know the tournament inside and out.

    Queensland’s pick and stick mentality when it comes to selection, the way they bleed players and bring them into the system slowly is very smart. They don’t throw away players at the first mistake, which often NSW does.

    Origin footy is the toughest on the planet. At some point it chews up and spits out every footballer. But it is how they bounce back and learn from the knock in the end that is most important.

    Since 2006 Queensland has had one coach. Since 2006 NSW has had four – Graham Murray, Craig Bellamy, Ricky Stuart and Laurie Daley.

    Each comes in with his own ideas and thoughts on player selections. Each tinkers with the formula and tries their own preferred cattle in different roles.

    We have seen it time and time again.

    Jarryd Hayne/Brett Stewart/Anthony Minicheillo/Josh Dugan at fullback. Robbie Farah and Michael Ennis switching at hooker.

    The revolving door of the front row that has seen Brent Kite, Michael Weyman, Josh Perry, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Justin Poore, Jason King, Kade Snowden, Tim Mannah, Trent Merrin, Keith Galloway, Paul Gallen, Tim Grant, James Tamou, Andrew Fifita, Aaron Woods, Brett White and Ben Cross all tried.

    The wing spots have arguably been worse with everyone from Hayne, Steve Turner, Anthony Quinn, Brett Morris, Blake Ferguson, Nathan Merritt, James McManus, Akila Uate, Jole Monaghan, Michael Gordon, Matt King, Hazem El Masri and David Williams having a turn.

    Don’t get me started on the Blues’ halves combinations. Sure injury and suspension hasn’t helped, but many times they have been their own worse enemy when it comes to consistency.

    Stability for Queensland, instability for NSW.

    The Maroons have been able to build deeper bonds, create a stronger culture, spirit and have more effective combinations because of the familairty between them, not just because of pure talent.

    The Queensland Former Origin Greats launch was another brilliant initiative that fosters togetherness and spirit.

    Sure, several other things have undoubtedly helped. Greg Inglis playing in a maroon shirt instead of a blue one, for a start. Jamie Lyon’s decision to end his representative career early, for another.

    The retirements of NSW legends like Andrew Johns and Brad Fittler. Danny Buderus’ move to Super League, William Hopoate’s missionary work.

    Not to mention the stupidity of those like Blake Ferguson and James Tamou in off-field incidents this year.

    A little luck going NSW’s way wouldn’t hurt either, like no injuries to Gallen and Hayne. But you can’t rely on luck to win you an Origin series. It takes much, much more than that.

    Things like effort, momentum and putting your body on the line again and again for the full 80 minutues play massive roles. NSW veteran Steve Menzies recently spoke to me about the rigours of Origin.

    Despite the record eight series deficeit, confidence the streak will finally be broken still remains in NSW quarters.

    Menzies thought the Blues could do it, before the defeat in Game 3, and ex-NSW prop Ben Cross said the same when I interviewed him before Game 1 earlier this year.

    Asked about the 2013 series recently, former Blues front-rower Michael Weyman told me he thought it was “great”.

    “I think NSW over the last few years have been thereabouts and very close,” he said.

    “Every game could have gone either way. That’s the beauty of Origin I think, it’s so close, the bounce of the ball or a call could have gone either way.

    “It could have been a different result. That’s the beauty of Origin and it just keeps getting better.

    “Although we got beat, as a New South Welshman, I don’t think it’s too far off getting a win.

    “You can’t take anything away from Queensland. They are a tremendous side really. They’ve been together for a long time and they wouldn’t have the results they’ve had if they weren’t such a great team.

    “You can’t take anything away from them but I dare say you can’t take anything away from NSW either, they’re not far off.”

    Another former NSW forward, Mark O’Meley, who play in 10 Origins and won several, also believes the record has to change soon.

    “What we have done wrong?” he asked.

    “It’s got to turn sooner or later. We’re getting closer and closer and the Queensland boys are getting older…

    “I got to play with those young blokes like Cameron Smith and Billy [Slater] and that in 2006, and Johnno [Thurston] was still at the Dogs, with Australia and they’re very classy.

    “NSW probably relied on Andrew Johns or [Danny] Buderus in previous years while Queensland has just done the same. They’ve got a connection there with the main three positions.

    “Your fullback’s is now probably like another halfback, he’s that important, and if they lose Billy you put GI there don’t you. It doesn’t stop.

    “They’ve done really well and they bond really well in camps and stuff. We tried to do that massive in our NSW camps but, yeah, we have to break it [the streak] sooner or later.”

    The monkey on the Blues’ back is getting bigger and bigger. And, weirdly enough, Queensland’s winning run isn’t killing Origin as many claim.

    The stadiums are always full and the TV ratings for the showpiece couldn’t be higher.

    Something NSW have found tough to break is Queensland’s confidence, the kind that you get from eight series victories in a row. The belief that you can come back and win a match from any position, any scorline.

    It’s an aura of invincibility that has to fold eventually, as nothing lasts forever, but has has been remarkably resistant so far.

    Knights forward Neville Costigan played six games for Queensland from 2007 to 2010. He feels that while NSW had a very good chance of success this year, the Queenslanders will still keep believing they will do the job.

    “They [Queensland] keep blooding young players at the right time and sticking with them to give them some experience, some time on the field,” Costigan said.

    “I reckon they’ll go close to winning it for the next five years. I thought NSW would have got us this year if they hadn’t got the injuries like Hayne and Gallen, they’re big blokes, and if they stuck with the first team in the second and third games, they would have gone pretty close.

    “But maybe next year [NSW will win it], I don’t know. If Queensland have the same team for the first game next year they’ll probably win it.”

    Follow John Davidson on Twitter @johnnyddavidson

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