Eighty minutes to glory … NSW coach Ricky Stuart.”80 minutes to the prize, boys!”
Those words from Phil Gould to the NSW players as they took the field for the match that ended Queensland’s last period of State of Origin dominance are suddenly fresh in this reporter’s mind ahead of Wednesday night’s series decider.
Gould, a Fairfax columnist at the time, was seated on the sideline for the second match of the 2003 series and the Blues coach unwittingly kept phoning the Herald every time he sat back in his chair after jumping up to yell instructions or encouragement to his players.
Undoubtedly, NSW coach Ricky Stuart will be telling the Blues players something similar just before they run onto Suncorp Stadium for Wednesday night’s series decider.
Like 2003, there is a feeling that the tide has turned and NSW’s six-year Origin drought is finally going to end.
Back then Queensland had won four of the previous five series and Gould had been bought back for his second stint as NSW coach in 2002 to rectify the situation.
Stuart, who coached the last successful Blues team in 2005, was appointed last year for the same reason and in his second year he has the NSW players and much of the state believing a new era of Origin domination is about to begin.
The 21 Blues players to feature in this season’s three matches series is the lowest since 2003 when Gould used just 20 and, as in that series, Stuart has stuck with the same halves combination throughout – something NSW teams rarely do.
Sticking with the same squad has enabled the Blues to build with each match and develop combinations rather than the players having to start over again when they come into camp.
However, it is the form of the players – and not some misguided loyalty – that has allowed Stuart to do that, with a statistical analysis of NSW’s 16-12 win in Origin II showing that NSW players dominated the match.
According to SportsData’s contributor value rating system, which uses statistics to measure a player’s effectiveness, the Blues had seven of the top 10 performing players in Origin II.
Queensland halfback Cooper Cronk, secondrower Nate Myles and hooker Cameron Smith were the only Maroons players to feature in the list and Smith was ranked 10th.
Not surprisingly, NSW hooker Robbie Farah, who made a record 63 tackles, was considered the best performing player over the full 80 minutes, but the contribution of prop James Tamou in the 41 minutes he was on the field was staggering.
Blues fullback Brett Stewart and five-eighth Todd Carney also featured in the top 10, which is as follows:
Robbie Farah (NSW) 567.25 (cvr – game), Cooper Cronk (Qld) 565.65, Nate Myles (Qld) 545.20, Greg Bird (NSW) 521.90, Brett Stewart (NSW) 507.10, Josh Morris (NSW) 492.40, Paul Gallen (NSW) 470.80, James Tamou (NSW) 463.40, Todd Carney (NSW) 437.20 Cameron Smith (Qld) 417.15.
In recent years, you could almost see the pressure to win suffocating the players in the lead up to matches but after holding out Queensland in the last 10 minutes of Origin II to level the series, the confidence in the Blues camp is now sky high.
The loss of star fullback Billy Slater is also a massive blow for the Queensland and while Greg Inglis is the best possible replacement his switch from centre will cost the Maroons some of their attacking potency on the left side.
To win, the Blues are going to have to play even better than they did in Origin II but there is a sense that NSW are now just 80 minutes away from holding aloft the State of Origin shield for the first time in seven years.
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