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NRL News: Maguire happy with Papi's claims for Origin berth, Souths set to name new defence coach

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16th April, 2024
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Refusing to be drawn on who will wear the NSW State of Origin No.6 jersey, incoming Blues coach Michael Maguire says he won’t rule out players because of their NRL team’s faltering form.

Cody Walker is the incumbent NSW five-eighth while a number of other South Sydney players including Damien Cook, Cameron Murray and Latrell Mitchell have been Blues regulars.

While Maguire appears to be casting his net far and wide, saying there’s up to 50 players in his selection mix, he hasn’t nixed any Souths players just because the Rabbitohs (1-5) sit last.

“Every team I’ve been a part of and teams that I’ve coached, I’ve seen players that might have been in a tough period through the season, jump into the Origin arena and they can play really well,” Maguire said at the State of Origin launch at the MCG on Tuesday.

“When you jump into the Origin arena you’ve got some of the best around you so it’s amazing how all of a sudden they can jump to that level.”

One player Maguire did speak glowingly about was star Melbourne fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen, who was on the cusp of NSW selection before suffering two serious injuries.

He has been a stand-out for the Storm since his return this season.

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“I sort of left Paps alone earlier in the year because he just wanted to get himself back and playing,” Maguire said.

“It’s great to see what he’s been able to do and achieve with everything he’s been through, and that’s part of character that I’m talking about.

“A player that comes back in that sort of way says a lot about a person and he’s playing some really good footy at the moment.”

Maguire says the start of his tenure, replacing of Brad Fittler, is a “re-set” for the Blues but that doesn’t mean he will start from scratch.

The ex-New Zealand Test coach said he needed to keep experience in the NSW ranks, as they look to stop a three-peat of series wins by Billy Slater’s Queenslanders.

Maguire said he was meeting regularly with players to make sure everyone was on the same page.

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“You’ve got to have experience … although one thing I’ve learnt through international football is that some players can step up to another level and some struggle, so it’s finding the right people who can step into this arena and finding the right balance.

“There’s not far between the talent, it’s the character of the player that I’m keen to get a good understanding of because building the character of the team is really important on where we are right now.

“I’m continuing conversations with players about performing well and being consistent.

“This next couple of months is really important for everyone available.”

The MCG will host game II of the series on June 26, with the first being played in Sydney on June 5 and third in Brisbane on July 17.

Rabbitohs to firm up defence with Furner

South Sydney look set to bolster their beleaguered coaching ranks by bringing David Furner back to the club, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

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Furner, who coached under Michael Maguire in 2017, was most recently at the Wests Tigers last year and has been linked with a job at the Bunnies, who are looking to kickstart their season and, in particular, their defence.

Souths parted ways with defence coach John Morris last year – he subsequently joined the Tigers – and head coach Jason Demetriou took over.

They also lost Sam Burgess late in 2023 to the Warrington Wolves, with NSW Cup coach Joe O’Callaghan stepping up to take on first team duties.

“I’m close with David and I know he’ll have a good impact on improving our defence,” Demetriou told the Herald.

He previously worked with Furner under Paul Green at the North Queensland Cowboys in 2015, winning a Premiership together.

Furner was head coach at Canberra between 2009 and 2013 and at Leeds, where he lasted just 16 games before being sacked.

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Slater’s surprising fullback option

Elite fullbacks Reece Walsh and Kalyn Ponga could still both be in the Queensland team coach Billy Slater will name for the State of Origin series opener.

“I’m open to anything. I’m not against trying to evolve our game and think about it in different ways,” Slater told AAP.

“That is how I was as a player. It is about what suits your team. I am sure they would like to be teammates one day.

“Whether it can work, I am not too sure. I watch our players and the habits they have got in their game and try and build a game plan around our strengths so they can be at their best.” 

Ponga, with seven Origin games to his credit, was integral to the Maroons’ 2022 series win in his finest performance for the state.

In 2023 he suffered multiple concussions and, on recovery, selflessly decided to commit to club football where he led the Knights to the NRL finals. 

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Walsh shone in his two winning Maroons outings in 2023 at No.1 before being suspended for game three. One of the pair, fitness pending, will wear the No.1 jersey in the Origin opener in Sydney on June 5. The other could be elsewhere in the 17. 

Ponga came off the bench in his Origin debut in 2018 and played a stellar role as a roving creator of havoc. Walsh played as a utility on occasion when he first came into the NRL with the Warriors while being mentored by Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in 2021.

“I think anything is possible,” Slater said when asked if Walsh could play another position such as wing for the Maroons. “I don’t build the team now. It is the players’ role to build habits in their game and my role to watch them now.

“In 40-odd days we accumulate all the actions they have built into their game and work it out.”

The habits of both players at fullback, asides from their acknowledged razzle dazzle with the ball, have impressed Slater. 

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As an elite custodian for Melbourne, Queensland and Australia, the Maroons mentor valued the defensive and organisational side of his role as much as the attacking aspect and he looks for the same ethos in his players.

“Their movements off the football are really impressive. Their defensive movements at the back are really good,” Slater said. “I value the movements they make without the football for their team. 

“Both of them are putting themselves in positions to be involved in the game. That’s something they have built in their game and they have grown in that area.”  

While Ponga was unavailable last year, Slater is assured his commitment to the Maroons has always been rock solid.

“Sometimes circumstances out of your control come up … but the Queenslander in Kalyn I have never questioned,” Slater said. “There were some pretty influential players in that 2022 series and none more so than Kalyn.”

with AAP

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