When picking the New South Wales side to play this year’s State of Origin series, Laurie Daley should look to the example set by Australia’s triumphant 1989 Ashes side.
No one expected the Australian cricket team to win the Ashes on their 1989 tour of England. Following the retirement of Dennis Lillee, Greg Chappell and Rod Marsh at the very start of 1984, the team had lurched from mediocrity, to regular defeat, to disaster.
When Kim Hughes resigned as Australian captain in tears in November 1984, the mantle was handed to the indomitable Allan Border.
It was a poisoned chalice. The ACB kept hosting and visiting the mighty West Indies and the team also had to face an England side that featured the likes of David Gower, Robin Smith, Ian Botham, Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting.
Time after time the only thing that kept Australia’s fragile pride intact was Allan Border’s grit and determination. While a few players like Dean Jones, Geoff Marsh and David Boon started showing some promise – and the one-day World Cup win in 1987 showed a glimmer of hope – Border had developed a siege mentality.
While he wanted to win the matches he played, it was fairly likely that his main priority was to not lose. The idea of going on the attack had become a foreign concept.
The story goes that on the morning of the first Test at Headingly in Leeds, Border was discussing strategy with his team, which had more than a few young players in it. The talk was mostly taking the form of “be careful of this from this guy” and “we’ve got to try and limit the damage this guy can do”.
A young Steve Waugh piped up and pointed out that he wasn’t concerned about who they were playing, he and a lot of his fellow players weren’t scared and were going to take the fight right up to them.
Young Mark Taylor then went out and scored a ton, Waugh made his maiden Test century (177 not out) and even Merv Hughes made 63 not out. The team went on to dominate the series and the golden age of Australian cricket began. Waugh was right. He and his other young teammates hadn’t been dominated by the Poms and he didn’t think that they should be haunted by the failures of past campaigns.
When NSW Blues coach Laurie Daley picks his side for Game 1 of the State of Origin series he needs to learn from that example. While the Blues surely need the grizzled and battle-hardened warriors like Paul Gallen and Beau Scott, they must also have a number of young debutants who are itching to go out and win the series, not just try and stop Queensland from winning their tenth title in 11 seasons.
If the 52-6 flogging in Origin 3 taught us nothing else it showed that there are a number of the existing NSW players who are simply not up for the fight anymore. They have been mentally and physically bested and it will be very easy for the Maroons to do it to them again.
The blind persistence of picking Mitchell Pearce for all but the triumphant 2014 season demonstrates that loyalty plays a huge part in the mentality of Daley as a coach and that of his predecessor Ricky Stuart. Perhaps they have developed their own siege mentality just like Border did during the dark days of the 1980s.
Daley will want to keep his team together to beat the might of Queensland. He won’t want to drop anyone to cop the blame for the failures of the past. However, that blind persistence must now change or risk the opportunity for NSW to create their own winning dynasty.
If he keeps doing what he’s always done, he’ll keep getting what he’s always got. Another 52-6 and New South Wales Rugby League will be looking for another coach.
Right now Daley can set the side up for success for years to come, if he just chances his arm at the selection table and gets his boys to go out and play to win.
There are a number of circumstances that mean NSW could get the jump on Queensland.
Firstly, two of the three games will be played at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, giving the boys in blue two partisan crowds to urge them on.
Secondly, injuries and generational change mean the Maroons are missing a few vital players from their 2015 squad. Billy Slater, Will Chambers and Justin Hodges are 55 games of experience that won’t be there.
Thirdly, new Queensland coach Kevin Walters made it very clear that it was his way or the highway, suspending eight emerging Queenslanders for breaking team curfew. All power to Walters. It is unlikely his authority will be challenged again anytime soon.
However, that Ben Hunt, Anthony Milford, Dylan Napa, Jarrod Wallace, Edrick Lee, Chris Grevsmuhl, Valentine Holmes and Cameron Munster won’t be available for the Maroons in 2016 could well be decisive for the Blues, and not just for this season but for many seasons to come.
If Queensland are to keep the dynasty going then Hunt, Milford, Napa and Munster will almost certainly be part of it. The more games they can play under the dominant guiding hands of Cooper Cronk, Cam Smith, Corey Parker, Greg Inglis and Johnathan Thurston the better. Assuming that Walters is a man that stands by his decisions – and that is a good assumption – those players won’t be getting that experience this season.
And that is some incredibly bad timing for Queensland as eight of the Queensland regulars are surely nearing the end. Either this year – or next at the most – will signal the end of representative footy for a large percentage of the following: Greg Inglis (29), Johnathan Thurston (33), Cooper Cronk (32), Cam Smith (nearly 33), Nate Myles (nearly 31), Matt Scott (30), Sam Thaiday (nearly 31) and Corey Parker (34). That makes the simultaneous retirements of Lillee, Chappell and Marsh look like a mild inconvenience.
Inglis, Myles, Smith, Thurston and Scott were all in that side that broke through in 2006 under the experienced leadership from the likes of Petero Civoniceva, Steve Price and Darren Lockyer. It seems strange now to think that any of them were ever underdogs. But they were. And they were playing a side that was undergoing generational change. Brad Fittler and Ben Kennedy retired, to be followed soon after by Andrew Johns.
Daley now has the chance to get the jump on Queensland in blooding the next generation of players before Queensland’s imminent generational change. Imagine in 2018 a NSW team that had experience and confidence, up against a Queensland side that didn’t. The tables would be turned.
This is Daley’s chance to begin his own dynasty by debuting lots of his up and coming players this season. I am not advocating a cleanout by any means – there must be a mix of experience and youth – but Daley could ensure the success of his team for years to come if he gets this year’s selections right.
I’ve taken the liberty to create a NSW side that could well be the starting point for future Blues dominance.
Fullback: James Tedesco (23)
The Wests Tigers custodian is a certified talent. His speed, line breaking and try assisting make him a must to wear the sky blue. He is the NRL’s leading try-scorer with nine so far and is averaging a massive eight tackle breaks a game.
Wing: Alex Johnson (21)
The kid is tall, fast and dynamic. He knows his way to the try line and can go to fullback in a pinch. In his 46 games so far he’s had 44 line breaks and 42 tries. He is more than a little reminiscent of a young Greg Inglis.
Centre: Michael Jennings (28)
The guy is fast and experienced. He makes his tackles too. Four tackle breaks a game and he’s scored six tries so far in 2016.
Centre: James Roberts (23)
Jimmy the Jet is as quick as they come and under Wayne Bennett at the Broncos he’s only going to get better. He also defends well. Four tackle breaks a match so far this year, he’s about to explode.
Wing: Blake Ferguson (26)
Ferguson has made some poor off-field decision but on the field he has it all: speed, strength, height and great hands. He can also play centre, wing or fullback.
Five-eighth: Matt Moylan (24)
In the mould of a young Darren Lockyer, the boy from Baulkham Hills has all the skills and is a born leader. Give him the ball.
Halfback: Aidan Sezer (24)
As his display for City Origin showed, Sezer is a pretty good general. His kicking and organisation game is very tidy. Daley could go with Trent Hodkinson here, but Sezer has a better kicking game.
Lock: Paul Gallen (c) (34)
A few weeks ago I said that I thought Gallen was passed it. He’s not. Apologies, Paul. At 34 he is making 160 metres, 15 hit-ups and 35 tackles a game. He still wants it and he’s racking up the numbers to show it.
Second Row: Boyd Cordner (23)
This bloke is a real talent. His hard running, ball playing and strong defence is a must.
Second Row: Beau Scott (32 – almost)
He’s getting on but this is the bloke that finally got the Parramatta pack to step up. You want him in the trenches with you.
Front row: Aaron Woods (25)
The bloke is a goer. A great work rate and plenty of nous as well.
Hooker: Robbie Farah (32 y/o)
There isn’t anyone else. Farah has to realise that his job is just to tackle and give good service from dummy half. I hoped Mitch Rein would step up, but he hasn’t. Farah is still the best option. This will be an issue going forward. Where are the up and coming hookers?
Front Row: Andrew Fifita (26)
It’s time this bloke was a starting Origin prop. He’s got it all. It’s time for him to dominate.
David Klemmer (22)
Yep, he can be an idiot but he’s got some A-grade mongrel in him. You gotta have mongrel in Origin.
Trent Merrin (26)
Merrin has a huge ticker and massive work rate. He’ll keep hurling himself forward. He fears nothing.
Bryce Cartwright (21)
The kid has to play this year. A superb ball-running, ball-playing back-rower, he is the future.
Greg Bird (31)
The bloke can be a grub but he’s a hardcore competitor with great skills. Can play five-eighth, lock and second row.
There are a number of omissions I’ve made that I’m sure many of you will question.
Josh Morris (29) – Hasn’t been up to his best this year. Once he is he’ll certainly be challenging for a spot. As will his brother once he’s fit.
James Tamou (27) – I know he played for Australia, but I thought he wasn’t that great and he got shown up in Origin 3 last year. I’d like to chance other options.
Josh Reynolds (27) – I love Reynolds but Moylan and Sezer just don’t have the brain explosions he does. If Daley goes for Moylan at fullback instead of Tedesco then Reynolds could come in to disrupt the Queensland halves.
Mitchell Pearce (27) – The only series Pearce has missed since 2008 is the 2014 series that NSW won. There is no doubt that he has talent but he’s not the man for the Blues.
Josh Dugan (26) – He breaks five tackles and makes 167 metres a match. However, of the regular starting fullbacks in the NRL his line breaks, line-break assists, try assists and tries statistics are easily the worst. He has scored just one try this season and is yet to assist a try or line break.
Extended training squad
Along with some of the above, the following players should be kept in the mix.
Latrell Mitchell (18) – The first time I saw this kid I knew I was watching a future star. Nothing I’ve seen since has made me think otherwise.
Tom Trbojevic (19) – He’s just a kid and he’s already looking special. Fast, tall and skilful.
Jake Trbojevic (22) – A versatile forward with a huge ticker. Has impressed many.
Ryan James (24) – He’s very close to an Origin berth. James is a hard man with a great work rate and is a future leader.
Jack Bird (21) – The kid has talent. Just ask him. He could play anywhere in the backline and he’s up for the contest.
Shannon Boyd (23) – The big unit from Cowra will play Origin. He may be the best front rower out of the Raiders since Glenn Lazarus.
Paul Vaughn (25) – Boyd’s Canberra teammate is also turning heads. He can play lock and second row as well.
Blake Austin (25) – Last year’s revelation hasn’t played enough football this year but definitely has the skills. Further, his one-time shaky defence has improved out of sight.
Jack De Belin (25) – Pity about the man bun but De Belin is a very skilful, hard worker who would look great in blue.
Tyson Frizell (24) – See Jack De Belin (minus man bun criticism).
Mitch Rein (26) – I really hope that he can make a successful jump to the representative arena.
The future is bright for the NSW team, if Daley will just reach out and grab it.