The New South Wales Blues are in the unfamiliar position of coming into a State of Origin series as defending champions, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be any changes to the Brad Fittler’s side when he names it next month.
Last Wednesday night, the greatest winning streak in Australian sport was officially broken. For eight long years, the Queensland Maroons took their cross-city victory tour from Sydney to Brisbane, with the occasional stopover in Melbourne, promising and delivering the same result for almost a decade.
The series win must have felt equal parts triumphant and relieving for Paul Gallen, Jarryd Hayne and others who had been there during the darkest timeline.
The Blues’ football has been marred with inconsistent team selections, players playing out of position – and sometimes out of form – and a generally mind-boggling capacity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
The wait was more than long enough for this long-suffering New South Welshman, but after a few days of enjoying the win and soaking in our stature as defending champs, one has to ask: what does this really mean for the Blues?
Don’t call this a Blues bashing article. Look at it more as bringing balance to the force, in the face of some wild conclusions reached by fans and journalists alike in the wake of the win.
Let’s get this out of the way first: NSW deserve to be proud of their victory. For the first time in a long time, the team showed a commitment to excellence, bravely dumping the out-of-form Bondi halves in preference of their Belmore-based rivals.
The offence did just enough in tandem with an incredible defensive effort, winning two games that were about as far away from cakewalks as can be.
But fleeting pride comes a step before crippling arrogance, and sustained pride is exactly where the Queenslanders have us beat. Every year, the State of Origin is a two-horse race. The percentages tell us we have a 50 per cent chance of winning. The law of averages says you can expect to hoist the shield once every couple of years. To put it simply, one hit in nine shots ain’t good enough.
For the last few years, it hasn’t been a matter of if NSW will win, but when.
Obviously, Queensland can’t win all the time, so eventually a changing of the guard would have to take place. It just so happens that that guard held office for two terms, and while there are plenty of bright signs in the Blues’ future – mainly the fine play of rookies like Aaron Woods, Anthony Tupou and Josh Dugan – let’s just hold off on that shipment of bronze for Gallen’s statue, as some outlets have so ludicrously reported.
Come on, what would it say? ‘Here stands Paul Gallen, he won exactly one series in eight years’? Not exactly Wally Lewis material.
Speaking of kingly comparisons, Hayne has deservedly been treated as nothing less than the second coming for his heroic efforts this year. That’ll mean plenty for him in 2015 once he’s swapped the sky blue for a shade of Honolulu, catching touchdowns out of the slot alongside Reggie Bush in Detroit.
Actually, scratch that. Wouldn’t want to give him any ideas.
In a series where the Blues won two games to one, they scored 34 points to Queensland’s 42. The scoreboard doesn’t exactly scream dominance. In Game 3 alone, the Maroons, boasting a full-strength side for the first time all series, almost matched the Blues’ entire 2014 points total.
The start of a fearsome dynasty, this is not. Cooper Cronk proved just how valuable he is to that team of titans, and with the recent insanity of the NBA’s offseason, he and his Melbourne brothers can once again lay claim to the title of ‘most formidable Big Three in world sport’.
Painful as it may be to hear, it would be to the surprise of absolutely nobody if next year’s series proves the catalyst for another two or three straight championships for Mal’s men.
Last week, Queensland sounded an ominous warning that they are far from done. The question is: will NSW be better, or struggling to keep up?