Queensland’s loyalty policy is a lie

Christian D'Aloia Roar Guru

By , Christian D'Aloia is a Roar Guru

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    As the dust settles on yet another lost Origin series for the Blues, it seems a change of tactics should be on the cards for NSW if they hope to return to their former interstate glory.

    It seemed a forgone conclusion that Queensland’s brutal decade of dominance had come to a bitter end after they were delivered a 28-4 shellacking in the opening game of the series at Suncorp Stadium.

    For many, myself included, the writing was on the wall for Queensland the moment coach Kevin Walters announced the omission of the in-form and devastating Billy Slater, favouring the incumbent Darius Boyd and Justin O’Neill at fullback and centre respectively.

    After all, Boyd and O’Neill had got the job done in 2016 and were to be faithfully rewarded by the selection panel as per Queensland’s legendary ‘loyalty policy’.

    True to form, Walters would also go on to select a cavalry of Maroon legends who similarly had served Queensland admirably over the last decade, despite rather disheartening club form. Such players included Nate Myles, Sam Thaiday, Aiden Guerra and Jacob Lillyman – all of whom were struggling to lock down starting spots in their respective club sides.

    Throw in a debutant in the front row in Dylan Napa, and there was little doubt that NSW’s young and in-form monster forward pack would dominate the middle of the field through the likes of Andrew Fifita, Aaron Woods, David Klemmer and Jake Trbojevic.

    Nobody, however, could have foreseen the degree to which the NSW forwards – led by Fifita – would dominate their Maroon counterparts, laying the platform for their backs to complete a brilliant victory and surely send the Queensland brains-trust into turmoil.

    The latter appeared to come to fruition before Game 2, with the famous loyalty policy – often credited for a major role in Queensland’s dominance – abandoned without so much as batting an eyelash in pursuit of greener pastures.

    Each of Myles, Thaiday, Guerra and Lillyman were dropped for the far better performing Jarrod Wallace, Coen Hess, Gavin Cooper and Tim Glasby, all of which were strong selections but, on paper, paled in comparison to the might of NSW. To some, it exposed the relative lack of depth in Queensland’s forward stocks when compared to NSW and even their own spine depth.

    Cameron Munster Queensland Maroons State of Origin 2017

    (AAP Image/Darren England)

    Similarly, Slater was recalled to fullback, and O’Neill and Corey Oates were dropped to accommodate Sharks livewire Valentine Holmes.

    The loyalty policy was no more, and as far as anyone south of the Tweed was concerned, so too was Queensland.

    And yet, in true Queensland spirit, the Maroons rallied to overcome a 16-6 deficit and clinch victory from the jaws of defeat when a NSW series win seemed all but certain.

    In the same shade of so many failed NSW campaigns before them, Queensland continued to chop and change their team for Game 3, this time due to injury. An injury to Boyd saw him replaced in the centres by regular utility Michael Morgan, while an injury to legendary five-eighth Johnathan Thurston resulted in debut call ups for the in-form Cameron Munster in the halves and the Broncos’ Ben Hunt on the bench.

    With that, Queensland would cycle through their third different halves pairing for the series, using a total of 26 different players. Their Blue opponents, meanwhile, would name the same 17 for the entire series for the first time since 1996, clearly believing this was the recipe for success in State of Origin.

    Laure Daley NSW Blues State of Origin NRL 2017

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    If there is a lesson to be learned for NSW in the light of their embarrassing Game 3 and series defeat, it is that Queensland’s much-heralded tale of loyalty being the catalyst for their dominance is little more than a myth.

    Instead, the answer is far more obvious – Queensland picks on form. The ‘damning’ fact that their team has rarely changed over the years is simply because the team’s nucleus in Slater, Thurston, Cronk and Smith never seem to be out of form. With the vast majority of the supporting cast following suit, it suddenly becomes very easy to be ‘loyal’.

    Sneaky as ever, Queensland fooled NSW into a false sense of security – they had them believe loyalty would cultivate success. As one would have it, apparently the key is multiple once-in-a-generation players and a carefully structured winning culture to boot.