Can Laurie Daley save the Blues?

There was much fanfare and hype in Rugby League circles last week as Laurie Daley was named as Ricky Stuart’s successor as Head Coach of the New South Wales State of Origin side, a daunting role to say the least!

But while Daley has spoken about his passion for the NSW Jersey and his determination to put an end to Queensland’s unprecedented winning streak, does he really have the tools to break the Blues’ drought?

Daley’s playing record speaks for itself. The former Canberra Raider unquestionably deserves his spot as one of the game’s true greats, having been involved in some of the finest Raiders, NSW, and Australian sides of all time. He was a successful captain at State of Origin level, and consistently experienced success throughout his playing career.

His coaching resume is not so glowing. While he has been involved with the Blues in minor, consultancy type roles in the past, his post-playing years have been spent primarily in the commentary box, although there was stint on the NSW selection panel. His most recent hands-on coaching role came this year, when he took charge of the NSW Country side for the annual game against City. 

But everyone knows that coaching Origin isn’t really about technical ability and tactical nouse, as much as it is about being able to bring a bunch of guys together and gel them in to a team on short notice. There’s little, if anything, that a coach can impart to a group of top-quality professional players in a 4-5 day camp that they won’t already have heard 100 times during their career, so Daley’s inexperience as a coach needn’t necessarily count against him. 

Having said that, it’s not just about motivating and inspiring ones players. Sure, team-building, harmony and cohesion are important, but you can bet your bottom dollar that Queensland will be pumped up and ready to roll when the 2013 Series kicks off in Brisbane too, so there’s certainly more to it than some inspirational stories and a heart-felt pre-match speech. If that was all it took, you’d have to think Ricky Stuart, one of the most passionate coaches in the business, could have got his side up.

Daley’s, and NSW’s, problems, can be summed up in two words – Greg Inglis. 

In Inglis the Maroons have got a weapon that, on his day, is virtually unstoppable. Like Jonah Lomu when he stormed on to the international stage for the All Blacks at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, Inglis at times is simply too big, and too strong for anyone in the game to handle. His speed, his size and his strength allow him to do freakish things on a footy field, and single-handedly create moments of individual brilliance which can completely alter the course of a game. 

At times like those, there really isn’t much the opposition can do, but shake their head and admit that Inglis is one of the game’s true phenomenons. And to make it worse, Queensland have got four of them.

They’re not all called Greg Inglis of course. But in just the same manner as Inglis can turn a game in an instant, so can Johnathan Thurston (right up there with contemporary greats such as Darren Lockyer, Andrew Johns and Brad Fittler), Billy Slater (unquestionably one of the finest fullbacks to ever play the game), and Cameron Smith (whose influence at any level can never be underestimated). These four players are the best four players on the field when origin time comes around, and their confidence, experience, and the simple fact that they’re such damn fine players, is what is causing NSW to lose series after series after series. 

Not only can they not contain them, they have nothing to counter them with either. A couple of years back it looked like Jarryd Hayne might have the x-factor and big match temperament to offer some sort of counter-attack, but his form is so hot and cold it’s impossible to know what kind of game you’ll get from him on a week-to-week basis. 

It’s the best players that float to the top of the pack on the biggest stages, and, unfortunately for Daley and his fellow selectors, the best players at the moment are all eligible to play for the Maroons. The sad fact for supporters of NSW may be that unless some stunning new talent hits the scene, that much-needed series win may have to wait until the Queensland stars start retiring!


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