The next Origin generation is just getting started

AJ Mithen Columnist

By AJ Mithen, AJ Mithen is a Roar Expert

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    With the State of Origin series in their pocket and a sunny outlook on life, the Blues head to Queensland saying all the right things about achieving their first 3-0 whitewash since the turn of the century.

    Five-eighth James Maloney has been his usual, cheeky self, questioning the dedication of the Queensland fans when asked about ticket sales.

    Coach Brad Fittler took some (reasonably playful) digs at the timing of Cameron Smith’s retirement and at the Maroons set up in general after their barren year across all representative sides.

    Life is good in a winning camp, and why wouldn’t it be.

    New South Wales have had somewhat of a charmed run in 2018. To win an Origin series a lot needs to go your way – especially when you decide to play 12 rookies (tonight Tariq Sims makes 13) against a battle-hardened opponent. This year, the mystical ‘rub of the green’ has been in the Blues’ favour.

    So the easy path to tread is to cast doubt on the results putting the series down to refereeing, injuries and retirements. As expected, that path has seen a lot of traffic.

    But good fortune always seems to accompany hard work and strong will.

    Fittler has been more than happy for the coverage of his team to focus on the yoga, the corridor sit-downs, the walks to the stadiums, the meditating. He likes people to think he sends his team out there without a care in the world and a song in their heart, and there are a lot of people out there who want to believe that too.

    But this belies the work Fittler, Greg Alexander and team have done to cultivate a team ethos. It has been mentioned more than once that NSW feel they are stronger than ever as a unit with a purpose.

    At least two players have noted in interviews that images like those seen in 2014 are relics of the past (picture Jarryd Hayne, arms out wide, basking in the adoration of the crowd), replaced by a philosophy of the team over the individual. They are careful not to mention Hayne by name, but the scene they describe is that shot, almost to a pixel.

    Jarryd Hayne NSW Blues State of Origin NRL Rugby League 2017

    Jarryd Hayne (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

    With a team of such precocious individual talent, it’s a credit to the team setup that they’ve created an environment which allows players like Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell to express themselves but remain focused on the singular goal.

    The Blues have shown grit, application and game smarts when it matters and that’s why they will rightly claim the shield. They’ve fought hard to wrestle control back after being outplayed, they’ve hung in as Queensland’s forwards pounded away at their line and they’ve cashed in on their opportunities to score.

    They’ve stared defeat in the face twice, then won the key moments to drag themselves over the line.

    But if Fittler’s rookies thought they’d learnt what State of Origin is all about, here comes their biggest lesson.

    Game 1 in Melbourne was played to a massive crowd of 87,422, split between people from the north, the south, and a huge number of theatregoers. Noisy, sure. But not a ‘true’ Origin crowd.

    Then came standalone Sunday in front of 82,223 adoring home fans, where NSW clinched the series with a game to spare (apparently this game was a failure because of TV ratings, – only in rugby league would you find people arguing that 3.1 million viewers watching your product was bad news).

    Tonight, 50,000 or so Queensland faithful will turn out expecting their team to uphold the pride of the state. They won’t care that it’s just the fifth time since 2006 that Game 3 isn’t ‘live’. As far as Queensland are concerned, every Origin game is ‘live’.

    It’s going to be a cauldron of hate and a wall of sound that these players will not have experienced. Facing the Broncos on a Friday night is one thing, playing a finals match is another. Playing an Origin match in front of already annoyed Maroon fans who want to send Billy Slater, one of their favourite sons, off in the right way? That’s a whole new ballgame.

    Billy Slater runs the ball for the Maroons in State of Origin

    Billy Slater (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    Fittler knows what’s coming, he experienced it as a player. That’s why he’s not walking his team to the ground tonight. Maloney, David Klemmer and Boyd Cordner know what’s coming. But all the sagelike advice and encouraging words in the world won’t stop the adrenalin and the pressure.

    The Blues took Game 1 handsomely in Brisbane last year, but just five members of that winning team run out tonight.

    Queensland are stinging at losing the series and they know they’ve played well enough to be at least 1-1.

    Kevin Walters is under pressure to show his team can win, and that he’s made the right selection moves in recalling halfback Daly Cherry-Evans and a starting front row of Josh Papalii and Jai Arrow.

    Some outlets have been running the game down because it’s a dead rubber and we’re starting to see signs the old ‘Origin is stale’ tropes are on the way back.

    I couldn’t disagree more. This series has been engrossing, taut and – like all good Origins – played right to the last minute. There’s new blood in both camps and quality players coming down the pipeline.

    Regardless of what happens tonight, the rivalry has reset. I can’t wait to see where it takes us.

    AJ Mithen
    AJ Mithen

    AJ watches far too much sport. When he's not watching it, he's reading about it. When he's not reading about it, he's writing about it and when he's not writing about it, he's talking about it on the podcast ‘A Sporting Discussion’. Rugby league has AJ's heart, but he loves to give space to the sports that the mainstream forgets - he’ll never rest until Australian baseball gets the coverage it deserves! He’s always game for a debate in a comments section or on twitter @AJMithen - but you’d best come prepared!

    Getting hassled by a parent or partner about spending too much time playing video games? Now, you can tell them the story of how some ordinary gamers scored $225k for just seven weeks of work.

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    The Crowd Says (12)

    • July 11th 2018 @ 7:38am
      peeko said | July 11th 2018 @ 7:38am | ! Report

      despite all the assumptions that are made about the ability of Fittler to coach, there are 3 reasons that NSW has won
      Smith, Cronk and Thurston.i do love those who think they will be easily replaced

      • July 11th 2018 @ 7:54am
        Paul said | July 11th 2018 @ 7:54am | ! Report

        I remember read articles claiming Qld had as many as seven 6s & 7s that were better than any of the NSW equivalents. If that’s the case, the transition from the 3 players you’ve named should have been seamless. Cronk & Thurston announced their SOO retirements ages ago, Qld coaches and selectors knew this, yet half and five eight has been their problem area this series.

        I agree with what you’ve said peeko, not because these guys are missing, but because Qld has failed to sort out it’s playmaker options, that’s hurt them.

        • Roar Rookie

          July 11th 2018 @ 9:45am
          josh said | July 11th 2018 @ 9:45am | ! Report

          The cool-headedness at the end of games is what Queensland are missing.

          Game 1 NSW was by far the better team. Game 2 was pretty even. Its game Queensland should have won, bar a a couple of silly mistakes.

          Might be Queelsnad bias, but I can’t see NSW having a prolonged winning streak. Having young teams on both sides should mean pretty even series’ for a while.

          • Columnist

            July 11th 2018 @ 1:32pm
            AJ Mithen said | July 11th 2018 @ 1:32pm | ! Report

            Bang on Josh. Good post.

      • July 12th 2018 @ 11:46am
        Tetley said | July 12th 2018 @ 11:46am | ! Report

        Kudos to Fittler for removing a lot of jerks from the NSW team and kick-starting a culture for fans to believe in. Need to keep humble though … saw a bit too much gloating for my liking after their wins. Queensland, with massively disrupted preparations, still showed they are a force to be respected. With a fully fit forward pack, including some gun young forwards coming in next year, I don’t expect the transition into a new Queensland powerhouse to take too long. The Blues will have a tough time ahead of them if they want to build a dynasty…

    • July 11th 2018 @ 9:53am
      Peter said | July 11th 2018 @ 9:53am | ! Report

      The Roar has an increasing, and increasingly annoying, habit of writing headlines that have nothing to do with the article. It’s so bad that there have been several recent examples of authors apologising for a headline they didn’t write.
      This is another one. An interesting piece spoiled by a click-bait headline.
      Can nothing be done about this?

      • Columnist

        July 11th 2018 @ 1:27pm
        AJ Mithen said | July 11th 2018 @ 1:27pm | ! Report

        That was my header Peter – but in my defence, it was 2.30am and I was proofing from bottom to top. I didn’t think it was really all that baity though!

    • July 11th 2018 @ 11:55am
      kk said | July 11th 2018 @ 11:55am | ! Report

      Persuasive argument AJ. I noted you went for Q by 14.

      It will be more than interesting to see how many points are influenced by
      ‘the wall of noise’ That may also let the dreaded ‘doubt’ play mind games
      if Q get off to a flyer.

      • Columnist

        July 11th 2018 @ 1:31pm
        AJ Mithen said | July 11th 2018 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

        Cheers kk – there’s a few variables involved, not the least being the crowd staying vocal. I’ve got that margin because I think if queensland get an early length on the Blues then NSW might not have the drive now that the job’s already done.. Whether that will happen is a really good question…

    • July 11th 2018 @ 1:39pm
      Phil said | July 11th 2018 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

      I have no doubt whatsoever why NSW will make a clean sweep of it. Qld is fielding probably the weakest team since SOO began. If you go from 1 through to 13 there is but one player who would make the top Qld team of all time, Billy Slater. In fact I find it hard to find a place for any of the others in the 2nd or 3rd Qld teams. As much as we like to gloat about our success this year let’s keep it in perspective.

      • July 11th 2018 @ 3:02pm
        DP Schaefer said | July 11th 2018 @ 3:02pm | ! Report

        Puts what Vautin achieved in 1995 perspective as well….

    • July 11th 2018 @ 6:56pm
      Big daddy said | July 11th 2018 @ 6:56pm | ! Report

      Obviously with a 2-0 or 3-0 series win NSW thoroughly deserve their victory but how long did it take for them realise they needed to make changes.
      I am sure Qld will probably be a little bit quicker implementing change for 2019.

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