FOR struggling NSW Blues fans the feeling is the same as we approach Origin from one year to the next.
The team is named, you get optimistic. The highs of a win, the lows of a loss, and the disappointment of what could have been as we watch Queensland lift the Origin shield yet again.
But 2017 was different. At least for me, it was different.
When the team was announced for game one, my heart sank. Not for the reason it normally does at this time of the year, but for good reason.
Finally, I felt Laurie Daley and his staff had picked a team capable of winning it. I’ve said it every year for the past decade: “This NSW team is the good. We can win it.” But I said it hesitantly, because I was loyal and felt I had to back the team if we were a chance to win.
When I said it to my colleagues, friends and family this year, when I said it to NRL player Jeremy Latimore, when I said it to a legend of the game in Noel Cleal, I truly meant it – and it was a great feeling. They all agreed. The Blues had picked a great team.
There was still a little bit of doubt in my mind. Could the Blues perform with such a good looking team, with players in form and a great mix of youth and experience, or will they be outplayed by a Queensland team that can pull a rabbit out of a hat?
Game day rolled around, I nervously sat at the edge of my seat awaiting kick off. Then the Blues exploded. What a win. My confidence had payed off.
Game two rolls around. The same team was named by Daley, but this time they would face a different opponent. Queensland had made mass changes, and the inclusion of Jonathan Thurston was scary.
Still, I was confident. At half time, I was confident. With 20 minutes to go, I was confident.
Then the Queenslanders came out and did what they do best. Thurston kicks a clutch conversion. Game over. The Blues had choked, in a way. They went away from what worked.
Leading in to the game I did a video preview with a friend, who is the sports editor at my work (Fairfax Media newspaper).
We agreed the Blues team was strong. I noted that with Tedesco at the back and a strong bench with plenty of impact, the Blues had the better team on paper.
Now, as we had to a decider my opinions haven’t changed.
Looking at the teams, no Thurston for Queensland is a bonus for the Blues, but an improved bench that includes Coen Hess is more intimidating that a bench with Sam Thaiday. Still, the Blues have a better set of interchange players with more impact.
Billy Slater is great and all, but James Tedesco has the potential to be better. He’s also younger, and fresher.
The Blues DO have a world class team. It has experience, hard workers, explosive ball runners, skilful offloads and a whole lot of meter-eating impact off the bench – a great combination.
And please, don’t give me bull about Pearce. He is the best halfback NSW has, and when he is on he is on. He deserves that number seven jersey.
So what do they have to do to claim the series? It’s simple.
Laurie Daley should sit the squad down and replay game one over and over again. It worked.
What they did was successful. Their forwards dominated, the halves played what was in front of them. There was no shifting the ball on the fifth with the game on the line.
Daley’s interchange system in game one worked a treat, but he lost that in game two.
They have the team on paper – they just need the mental strength to go on with the job. Something they also lost in the back end of game two.
Sure, Queensland can win it. But I don’t think they will. They don’t have a team as good as NSW. Not if the Blues really show up with that mental strength and a belief.
The team looks good on paper, again better than Queensland, so let’s see which Blues team shows up. The game one team or the game two?
My tip: NSW by 10, a penalty goal to be the first scoring play and Andrew Fifita to improve on his average performance in game two to claim man of the match honours.