It wasn't so long ago, was it? Certainly, NSW's last series victory was long enough ago to ensure there are no survivors from the Blues squad - at least in the playing sense. But still close enough to ensure it is recalled with more certainty than a veteran recounting old war stories.
On this day in 2005, Schapelle Corby was just weeks into her custodial sentence, London didn't yet know it was hosting the 2012 Olympics, and NSW were days away from being the Origin victors again. The Blues, coached by Ricky Stuart, won the shield by beating Queensland at Suncorp Stadium in a decider. Yet despite Queensland's remarkable run since, the players who achieved the rare feat remain convinced that the Blues can do it again.
''You can never write off Queensland,'' said Danny Buderus, who captained the Blues in the 2005 series. ''It's a great team they've got up there. But this is as good a [NSW] team as the last six. I hope it's their time.''
Others were even more certain. ''I just think it's their time,'' back-rower Craig Fitzgibbon said. ''I think they believe they can. Every player lives for these opportunities. The script's written; this is the best opportunity they're going to get as players. I'm sure they'll get it done.''
The Sydney Morning Herald set about finding the last players to taste a series victory in a NSW jumper ahead of tomorrow night's decider. Some are retired, while many are still playing in the NRL.
In that series, the Blues lost the first match, before levelling it in the second. And they travelled to Brisbane and prevailed 32-10 on Queensland's sacred soil. The question was asked of the players who have done it all before; how does the next batch do it again?
''It comes down to preparation,'' Buderus said. ''I've been talking to a few of them and their preparation is as good as it can be. Both sets of teams are going to improve. Everyone knows how long Queensland have been together but NSW are building. It will come down to those small plays, those Origin plays.''
The link between the two sides, of course, is Stuart, who will attempt to make history repeat. The coach missed an opportunity to win at the same ground in a decider last year, but has been at pains to stress that his squad had progressed from where they were then. ''He'll leave no stone unturned,'' Buderus said. ''He'll give them every opportunity. ''I'm sure they'll improve, and Ricky will have them treating it like warfare.''
Winger Matt King, who scored a hat-trick in the game-three victory of 2005, added: ''If he [Stuart] approaches this game like he approached that one, the boys will love this opportunity.
''To beat Queensland in a decider is one thing, but to do it against the greatest team that's ever been put together is another. They've got a massive opportunity to create history … and knock the dirty buggers off.''
Centre Mark Gasnier was one of just a few players to have served under Stuart during his two incarnations as an Origin coach, in 2005 and then over the past two years.
He said: ''They can win this one because they had the same opportunity last year. We really mucked it up [in game three]. There are a fair few in there that experienced that. They can learn from it. I'm not just saying this because I'm a New South Welshman. Over the last two years, I think our forwards have been a bit more dominant. If we get an even amount of possession I think we'll win.''
Anthony Minichiello is another to have played in '05 and again last year. The Roosters star could sense in 2011 what Stuart was assembling. ''It'll be fitting if the Blues win, because he's created that culture and passion for the jersey,'' he said.
The Blues fell last year during the opening period of the decider, when the Maroons scored four tries in the opening 33 minutes. Having experienced the highs and lows of Origin deciders in Brisbane, the Roosters player is well-versed on how best to handle the situation.
''If we come out much faster, with much more intensity, and get some points on the board, we could put the game away,'' Minichiello said. ''We just came out well from the start [in 2005]. Belief's a big thing in a team sport … this year, they have that belief.''
-Sydney Morning Herald
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