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Bold ambition: Maguire's right to take risks with new-look Blues squad - there’s no second-guessing in Origin

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Expert
26th May, 2024
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The State of Origin arena is no place for second-guessing. 

Winning teams are always the bold ones and new Blues coach Michael Maguire is being just that by picking his first squad based on that often overlooked criteria – form on the footy field.

Past reputations have held little sway. James Tedesco loses his spot at fullback even though he is the incumbent national captain – not because he’s suddenly an average player, but due to the cold, hard fact of the matter that there is a better option.

The guy who was integral to Penrith winning the past three premierships and monotonously puts in near-perfect performances at the back of Ivan Cleary’s winning machine. 

Fullbacks come in all shapes and sizes but what matters is the impact they make in attack and defence, and Dylan Edwards undoubtedly has overtaken Tedesco as the No.1 choice for the jersey. 

The bigger surprise in the spine is Api Koroisau getting the punt altogether with Reece Robson preferred at hooker. 

Cameron McInnes can fill in at dummy-half, if needed, but neither he or Robson is particularly dynamic in attack so Koroisau’s ability to spark points as a bench option would have been a handy asset.

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Instead, Maguire is putting his faith in workers like new captain Jake Trbojevic, McInnes and the indefatigable Payne Haas to shore up the middle with Liam Martin on the right and Angus Crichton lining up on the left to hit holes hard, or create them, with 100% effort.

The halves could be the Achilles heel of Maguire’s bold strategy. Even if Nicho Hynes is able to manage his calf complaint to be right for game night, he will not be able to train at full capacity.

Having key players who can’t do every session can be a major issue in the short preparation time of an Origin camp, particularly when you are coming up against a settled Maroons spine. 

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 16: NSW Blues head coach Michael Maguire poses for a photograph during the 2024 State of Origin Series Launch at Melbourne Cricket Ground on April 16, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

NSW Blues coach Michael Maguire. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Even with Cameron Munster ruled out of the series, they have their Mini-Me carbon copy version from the Cowboys at the ready in Tom Dearden, who turned in a terrific debut a couple of series ago when the Storm star was last unavailable.

The Blues’ cause is helped by the fact that eight of the 20 players in camp play for Penrith or are ex-Panthers.

Maguire’s on-field methods are not elaborate – his success at South Sydney a decade ago when he led them to their premiership drought-breaker was built on the subtlety of a sledgehammer. 

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Namely, the likes of Sam Burgess and Ben Teo thwacking the bejeesus out of opponents in defence and even bigger forwards rolling through the middle of the ruck to allow the creativity of Greg Inglis, Adam Reynolds and Luke Keary to shine out wide.

For Maguire, who as a player came through the Canberra system in the early 1990s when Tim Sheens espoused the value of attacking flair, it is surprising that his coaching style is seemingly at odds with that ethos. 

Although perhaps not when you consider he served his apprenticeship as an assistant at Melbourne under another old Raider in Craig Bellamy who favours the straight up the middle approach before shifting the Steeden to the speed merchants out wide.

Hynes, if he does make it to kick-off, has all of 11 minutes out of position at centre to show for in terms of Origin experience and while he has shown he’s capable of winning a Dally M by guiding a very good Cronulla team around at club level, being the chief playmaker for NSW is different beast altogether. 

Jarome Luai, Matt Burton or Luke Keary if he is jettisoned into a playmaking spot late each have their flaws and are not suited to the main role so the Blues will likely give Hynes as long as possible to get his calf right. 

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Maguire will only get one shot at being Origin coach – he has this series to show that he will have the Blues on the right track even if they don’t win the series and then if he hasn’t secured the shield by next year, his fate will be sealed. 

Origin coach, much more so than club footy, is a cut-throat business and whether it’s coaching, selecting teams or out on the field itself, there’s no time for wondering whether your methods are right. 

Maguire has shown he is not afraid to be different with the team he has selected. 

NSW have been installed as the underdogs but if Maguire can instill that bold mindset into his players for game one next Wednesday, this new-look team picked on form rather than reputation could “do a Queensland” on the Maroons and bring down the favourites.

TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 27: Dylan Edwards of the Panthers is tackled during the round eight NRL match between North Queensland Cowboys and Penrith Panthers at Qld Country Bank Stadium, on April 27, 2024, in Townsville, Australia.

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

NSW Blues

1 Dylan Edwards (Panthers)
2 Brian To’o (Panthers)
3 Stephen Crichton (Bulldogs)
4 Joseph Suaalii (Roosters)
5 Zac Lomax (Dragons)
6 Jarome Luai (Panthers)
7 Nicho Hynes (Sharks)
8 Jake Trbojevic (c) (Sea Eagles)
9 Reece Robson (Cowboys)
10 Payne Haas (Broncos)
11 Liam Martin (Panthers)
12 Angus Crichton (Roosters)
13 Cameron McInnes (Sharks)
14 Isaah Yeo (Panthers)
15 Haumole Olakau’atu (Sea Eagles)
16 Spencer Leniu (Roosters)
17 Hudson Young (Raiders)
18 Matt Burton (Bulldogs)
19 Luke Keary (Roosters)
20 Mitch Barnett (Warriors)

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