Carney and Pearce Better halves … Todd Carney and Mitchell Pearce.
AT THE start of the series, Ricky Stuart sat down with his enigmatic five-eighth and assured him he was part of a three-game plan to take back the Origin crown, not a one-game gamble.
It’s the type of faith and loyalty that has not been shown by many of his predecessors – before Stuart regained control of the Blues last year, the last time NSW had kept the same halves for an entire series was under Phil Gould in 2003.
Stuart, however, has done it for two years in a row. Last year it was Jamie Soward and Mitchell Pearce, but Stuart has substituted Soward for Todd Carney and for the second consecutive year finds himself 80 minutes away from ending one of rugby league’s greatest winning streaks.
When he took over the reins as coach from Craig Bellamy on November 17, 2010, NSW had used 12 halves in their past 15 games. One of the first things Stuart spoke about was loyalty – picking players and sticking with them.
The foundation of Queensland’s success over the past six years has been the combination of Johnathan Thurston and Darren Lockyer, who have played alongside each other in all of the past six series wins bar one, when Lockyer was injured in 2008.
Before Stuart’s reappointment as Blues coach, the last halves to see out the three games of a series since 1998 were Shaun Timmins and Andrew Johns (2003), and Brad Fittler and Brett Kimmorley (2000).
Carney admitted his performance in the opening game of this series wasn’t up to scratch. In the past he may have been given the axe after such an unflattering display.
But the added pressure of playing for your position never dawned on Carney, who credited Stuart for giving him the chance to prove himself over an entire series rather than only 80 minutes.
“It’s important when you hear the coach tell you that this is the way he wants to go with it for the series, as long as you play good and your form warrants selection,” Carney said.
“It was good to know that if you performed you wouldn’t get dropped. Coming into camp, it definitely did help knowing that you knew players, and it helped on the field too with my combination witch Pearcey.
“It is a big help for me knowing Mitch’s game. Obviously game one for me wasn’t my best game but I felt we got better for game two, as we will for game three.”
Kimmorley, who played his 10 games for NSW over six series, was in and out of the Blues side during his playing days.
He admitted it was often difficult to play with the weight of the selection axe hanging over him and praised Stuart for allowing Carney and Pearce to play without the added burden.
“It’s a big thing, because you put a lot of pressure on yourself to perform because in the past if you didn’t play well you knew you were probably going to get dropped,” he said.
“What Ricky has been able to build this year, the players aren’t worried about getting dropped, so they’ve been able to go out and do their job. He’s stayed very loyal through some losses this year and last year. Blokes that he knows are Origin players, even though you don’t win, you’re not going to get dropped.”
Timmins, who praised Gould for the loyalty he showed in his players when he was coach of the Blues, said he could see the “Gus” mentality in the way Stuart was running the show.
The former NSW utility said it was no surprise to see the Blues challenging to win back the Origin trophy on the back of stability in the halves.
“We’ve been chopping and changing for a couple of years, so it’s good to see Pearce and Carney working together and Ricky sticking with them throughout the whole series,” he said.
“Hopefully they can stick by them, even if they don’t win this week, because it will be good to see them get a couple of series together. To play the whole series together with Joey made it easier for the rest of the team. Gus was pretty loyal, if you did the job that he wanted you to do, he would stick by you. Ricky is a loyal kind of bloke as well, if he shows loyalty in someone, he expects it back.”
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