NSW Blues can't afford to dwell on rare result
The Blues were over the moon after their victory in the Sydney State of Origin match, but coach Ricky Stuart must ensure such euphoria is not blue-moon rare.
Rather than look back, as Stuart did in the days after the Melbourne defeat, the NSW coach must immediately focus on the deciding game in Brisbane in three weeks. As Blues assistant coach Steve ''Blocker'' Roach - a member of NSW's first series-winning team - says: ''Win a decider. Then you're back.''
In other words, NSW can't claim to have arrested Queensland's merciless march to Origin supremacy until they have beaten the Maroons on their own ground in a match that is not a dead rubber.
There were signs immediately after the Blues' four-point victory that Queensland didn't take losing well. While Maroons coach Mal Meninga was dignified and diplomatic after the match, winning six straight Origin series has not taught some of his players to accommodate defeat.
The Blues players report that some of the Queenslanders did not look them in the eye when shaking their hands after the final whistle. The Maroons glanced away, as if to lessen their acceptance of defeat. Blues players told their assistant coaches in the dressing room afterwards that Queensland centre Justin Hodges, who raged at the Blues in the dying moments of a NSW win in a dead rubber in Brisbane three years ago, wanted to fight.
Hodges's form has been mediocre but the play of his potential replacement, the Storm's Dane Nielsen, has been well below his usual standard. Meanwhile, NSW's Josh Morris, given the task of containing Queensland's Greg Inglis, is growing in the unfamiliar role of right-centre.
It is tempting to look at the record 14 tries Inglis has scored for the Maroons and wonder how State of Origin history would look if the ARL map had shown his home town of Bowraville to be in NSW. But Stuart must look forward to the burgeoning future of Morris and a hostile atmosphere at Suncorp Stadium on July 4. He can't count on Meninga making the mistake of overtraining his team, as he did in the lead-up to the Melbourne game.
GPS data showed the Maroons ran 23 kilometres in seven days at training. Top NRL clubs restrict the amount of running in a week to 11km. On some days, the Maroons trained twice. While the players were leg weary, they still prevailed in Melbourne against a team that was still some way short on self belief.
But halves Mitchell Pearce and Todd Carney were not as bad in Melbourne as was reported. They can play on the advantage line as well as their opposites and the Blues attack is supplemented by having a ball-playing back-rower, Glenn Stewart.
Provided Greg Bird stays fit, the NSW pack is a big chance of dominating Queensland's forwards again. Bird is the inspirational type that causes ex-players to shake their heads in admiration. Blues hooker Robbie Farah may have set an Origin record for tackles made, but Bird thoroughly deserved his man-of-the-match award. When you consider how he has rebuilt his life after being sacked by Cronulla and forced to play in Europe, he is the type of sacrificial player on which the legend of Origin football has been built.
The Maroons will attack the side of the field defended by NSW right winger Akuila Uate. They repeatedly sent the ball to their short side in the opening stages on the Sydney match, confident Uate's defensive reading was poor. As it transpired, he erred in an unexpected way: refusal to take a towering bomb on the full that led to a try just on half-time. Those swirling, spinning, wet balls are hard to catch - but allowing it to bounce is fatal. However, Uate was safe under bombs in Melbourne and it must be assumed his eyes caught a bank of glaring lights, rather than the ball.
A grateful Stuart will take to Brisbane the wishes of a seriously engaged state. ''We've proven to the people of NSW we can win an Origin game. Now, we've got to prove we can win a series,'' he said.
The Blues should also take the police dog, Chuck, who delivered the Sydney match ball by helicopter. With everyone ripping and tearing in the decider, ball security will be a big factor and that dog sure didn't want to let go of the Steeden.