With New South Wales losing their 11th series in the last 12 years, it’s not time to hit the panic button. That time was about six years ago. The Blues are way past the stage of anxiety kicking in; they’re firmly entrenched in the ‘what the hell do we do now?’ stage.
They say desperate times call for desperate measures, but I disagree. Desperate times call for sound and rational measures. Sure, it doesn’t sound as sexy, but it’s a lot smarter.
To wit, it stands to reason that NSW should take the savvy option, and call on one of the most brilliant rugby league minds in history. They should beg Andrew ‘Joey’ Johns to be the Blues’ Origin coach for 2018.
After the Blues’ Game 2 capitulation, Johns was as animated, frustrated and passionate as I’ve seen him. He talked about how much he loves the sky blue jumper, and how disappointed he was that NSW had let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers. He talked with emotion, and he talked with tactical nous.
He talked like a coach.
Paul ‘Fatty’ Vautin – never to be confused with Michael Parkinson – actually gauged the situation perfectly, and asked a poignant and timely question: would Johns consider coaching the Blues?
Joey was fairly emphatic with his response in saying no. He stated that he has enough going on his life, while also giving the distinct impression that he didn’t consider himself a coach. Plus, out of respect to Laurie Daley, the series was still very much alive.
Well, the series is well and truly dead now. More accurately, any momentum and optimism NSW had after their impressive Game 1 victory is dead. As such, the question was once more put to Johns after Game 3, when he was yet again disappointed and deflated.
This time the reply wasn’t quite as definitive. Johns hesitated. He then opened the door a little with an “I don’t know”, followed by an unconvincing rejection, with the throw-in line “I don’t need the pressure in my life”, delivered with a trademark grin.
Though it would be easy to be dismissive of the last comment, or even suggest it shows a lack of courage and effort that he was ironically demanding of the NSW players, it’s worth pointing out Joey’s well-chronicled battle with drugs and depression.
Johns didn’t respond too well to the pressures of being a high-profile footballer, so if he mentions pressure as a contributing factor to him knocking back the NSW coaching gig, it’s irresponsible to dismiss it. His health and wellbeing is far more important than a desire to return NSW to Origin glory. As big as State of Origin is, it remains just a game.
If you don’t believe Johns’ reasons for taking drugs earlier in his life, that’s your prerogative. Yet if there is even a small chance he was telling the truth, then we need to respect it and back off, along with being sensitive to his ‘pressure’ comments when discussing a return to Origin.
Additionally, while we’re on the subject, if you’re one of those people that believe Johns taking drugs enhanced his performance and his career – thus meaning he should be wiped out of the game forever – then please jog along now. That belief is as misguided as it is irrelevant.
But if there is even a small chance that Johns is keen to coach the Blues next year, the NSW powers that be should implore him to do the job. Beg him. Tell him his state needs him.
Johns is one of the most astute football brains the game has. Though Johnathan Thurston has gained serious momentum in the debate of who the greatest rugby league player of all time is, Johns remains number one in many people’s eyes, including mine. To have that type of talent sitting on the sidelines, with a passion for his state still clearly evident, is a complete waste.
Joey should be the Blues coach for 2018, and everything should be done to make it happen. If that means thinking outside the box, and appointing co-coaches, so be it. One could handle all the tactics and motivational speeches, while another could handle all media responsibilities, lessening the burden – and pressure – on Johns.
Laurie Daley surely can’t coach the Blues again. Though no one questions his love for NSW or the fact he’s a good bloke, coaching is a results-based occupation. He simply doesn’t have the results on the scoreboard, in the way the Blues have performed tactically, and in their execution.
It’s not always fair to blame the coach, but life and Origin aren’t fair.
So if Daley goes, the NSW will need a new head coach. What better replacement than arguably the best player of all time, one of the highest football IQs of all time, and one of the most passionate New South Welshmen of all time?
It makes sense, so make it happen.