Blues coach Laurie Daley speaks to the team at its training base in Coffs Harbour. Credit: NRL Photos. Copyright: NRL Photos.
NSW Origin coach Laurie Daley has well and truly put his stamp on the 2014 NSW side, with players saying he has brought the perfect mix of discipline, involvement and mateship.
The Blues' playing squad insists the second-year coach is more heavily involved in training this year, more focused, and with a greater focus on discipline.
And it started at the selection table before the series.
Incumbents Andrew Fifita, Boyd Cordner and Greg Bird were ruled out through injury and suspension, but that only accounts for three of the seven new faces compared to Origin III last year.
Halfback Mitchell Pearce was dropped for behavioural reasons, as was his underperforming halves partner James Maloney, while the non-selections of James McManus and Josh Dugan has shown Daley isn't afraid to make the big calls.
Despite an avalanche of distractions in the lead-up the current squad – currently bunkered down in camp in Coffs Harbour – seem unified, relaxed, happy, confident and settled under the champion NSW five-eighth.
"The first day we got into camp, 'Loz' congratulated us and the first thing that was different about last year – he looked each one of us in the eye and just said this is what he wants," prop James Tamou said.
"The difference for me is he's become more of a hard-nosed coach. The boys are really buying into it and have really taken it on board."
The Cowboys prop said training had been intense - in a good way - and even suggested they'd be ready to run out if Game I was this weekend.
If the small parts of their sessions open to media are anything to go by – the second day's training was far more intense than the first with the players going full throttle in an opposed session, with both attacking and defensive structures looking slick – then Tamou's assessment wouldn't be off the mark.
"I wouldn't say he's tense this year but definitely more focused, you can see it in his eyes, everyone feels that presence about him now," Tamou said.
"Last year we had Jimmy Dymock and Trent Barrett around to coach us, do this and that, [Daley] was just talking where he needed to but this year he's really taken it on board. He's telling blokes what he wants from them and if we're not going well, telling them to pull their head in."
Tamou described the changes as positive and that the players were quick to buy into it.
"This time last year we've gone a step up and it's good to see that happen. He's a bit more hands on – if we're in the middle of a play he'll stop the play and tell you how it is whereas last year he was in the background a bit," he said.
"He's grabbing the halves every morning and doing video sessions and telling them what he wants us to do and getting them to run the training each day. It's good because they're talking to us, so it's more of an in-team training session where we're sort of running it ourselves."
The alcohol-free nature of the camp, Tamou says, hasn't been due to a demand from the coach, rather it has come from the players themselves.
"I wouldn't say it's disciplined, it's more our choice. He said 'you can have a beer, you can do whatever you want, you're grown men'," he said.
"And we've just taken it upon ourselves to stay alcohol free and do our own thing and make sure our preparation is the best it can be. That comes from knowing this is our year and everyone's ready to go. Having that night out takes a day off training."
New five-eighth Josh Reynolds said the coach can be hard-nosed when he needs to be but is also approachable.
"He's really knuckling down on a few things he thought weren't up to scratch in last year's series. When they might come up at training he's letting us know about it and letting us know we can't do that," Reynolds said.
"He's definitely taking a stronger approach but off the field he's been really great; he's cruisey, he's laid back, he's very easy to talk to and that's probably the best thing I can get from him, you can just go up to him and ask him a question and it's fairly easy, so communication's been really great."