Just as COVID has affected the rest of the competition, and indeed the world, in 2020, it is set to affect the Origin series too.
How does the coach-adviser relationship work within the NSW State of Origin team structure? I spoke to Peter Sterling, who provided some great insights with the series decider against Queensland now only a fortnight away.
It is, of course, Sterling’s first year as adviser to fifth-year Blues coach Laurie Daley. ‘Sterlo’ talked about the process the pair have adopted, what happened in Game 2 of the series and which players are pushing hardest for promotion for Game 3 – if there do happen to be any changes.
Before the series started
“I’ve been feeling my way a bit in the role, so I have some input where I think it’s appropriate,” Sterling says.
“At the start of the series, Laurie and I wrote down our 17s, his and mine, and we agreed on maybe 12 or 13 of them, not necessarily all in the same positions, and then we just discussed it over a period of time before settling on the 17 we were both really comfortable with.
“Fortunately for Game 2 there was really no need (for discussion). We told all the players before the beginning of the series that we selected them with the intention of having the same squad throughout the series if they didn’t give us a reason to make changes.”
Leaving your ego at the door
Daley is an extremely loyal individual who is very close to his players. Sterling says his own role allows him to remain a bit detached and provide some alternative selection options that are at least worthy of discussion.
But, Sterling stresses, it’s not about trying to get Daley in a headlock and force him to adopt his suggestions. Devil’s advocate, Sterling calls himself, and Daley makes the final decisions. Sterling is very comfortable with that process.
“I made it very public when I agreed to come on board that I wouldn’t be offended if Laurie didn’t like my opinion,” he says.
“I think that’s what good coaches do anyway, they get a whole lot of opinions from different people and then it’s their job to make the ultimate decision based on all the input and what they think themselves.
“I’m just part of that process in throwing things at him and giving an opinion that hopefully he respects, but which you don’t expect him to follow just because you give it.”
The second half of Game 2
I asked Sterling whether, with the way things panned out with NSW leading 16-6 at halftime only to lose 18-16, it may have been better to have a real x-factor player like Matt Moylan on the bench instead of Jack Bird, to send out there in a bid to create that one more try the Blues needed to be safe.
Bird obviously has attacking strengths himself, but Moylan has been positively magician-like at times for Penrith this season.
Sterling says it wouldn’t have made any difference because of the way the Blues kept putting themselves under pressure after the break.
“We weren’t looking for an x-factor in that second half, we were just looking to get the football down the other end of the field and build some pressure,” Sterling says.
“But due to our poor execution on the rare occasions we got down there, we never got that opportunity.
“The tough carries were coming from guys like Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson and Brett Morris, out of our own end, and unfortunately we gave Queensland piggy-backs out of their own end all of that second half through the penalties we conceded and the dropped balls. The penalties were crucial.
“I watched the second half on video a couple of times and we didn’t stop playing through them. We were playing through them, but it was always at our end of the field. We built no pressure whatsoever on the back of that.
“We just had to keep defending because when you’re down your own end of the field all the time that’s all you can do until you get the football.
“Jack Bird as an interchange player works well for us, because in any scenario he’s going to cover spots for you. If you lose Mitchell Pearce he slots straight into the halves. We lost James Tedesco with the HIA for a while in Game 2 and he slotted into the centres, with Dugan going to the back.”
But Sterling is adamant that doesn’t mean Bird isn’t viewed purely as a bench player, to cover others. You just can’t fit everyone into the starting 13 who might deserve it.
“We definitely view Jack as a starting player,” he says. “We’d have no problem whatsoever with starting him in games.”
Pressing for selection
If everyone is fit, NSW may not change the 17 for Game 3. If there are any changes they will be minimal. Blues captain Boyd Cordner is working to overcome a calf injury in time.
“A guy like Jack de Belin has been part of the squad and if Boyd is ruled out, although I can’t say it for certain, you would imagine Jack would be first in line to come into the 17,” Sterling says.
“He has been in camp for both games and been playing really good football for the Dragons.
“Tom Trbojevic would have been a strong consideration to be in the run-on side for Game 1, but an injury obviously stopped that for him. And a player like Moylan is always a consideration.
“There are ready-made people to come in if Laurie wants or needs them, whether it’s because of injury or a selection decision, but there will be very few changes, if any, because there doesn’t need to be.”