So where to now for New South Wales?
According to former Blues greats Garry Jack and Steve Mortimer, it’s time to put an end to the Mitchell Pearce experiment – although finding a suitable replacement is easier said than done.
Jack, who played 17 games for NSW between 1984-89, was highly critical of the side’s lack of attacking menace during last night’s 18-10 loss to Queensland in the series opener in Melbourne, but while he feels for debutant Todd Carney he has seen enough of Pearce to demand a change.
“As far as Carney is concerned, the first game of Origin you play is always the toughest game of footy you’ll ever play – I heard Ricky Stuart say that last night and that’s 100 per cent correct,” Jack told NRL.com this morning. “Todd will be a much better player the next time he plays. I mean, Laurie Daley didn’t have a real good game the first time he played. Todd will be a much better player the next time he plays – but how much better is Pearce going to get?
“He’s not there to tackle blokes. Yes he has got a good kick but Robbie Farah did most of the kicking last night. [Pearce] is there to read plays, set up plays, create opportunities and if it’s not happening maybe we need to put someone else there that can do it. How many chances do you get at No.7?”
While NSW dominated the early running and took a 4-0 lead in the sixth minute when Akuila Uate picked up the scraps from a cross-field bomb to score, Jack said he was frustrated by the side’s inability to create more try-scoring opportunities.
The Blues scored two tries last night, both from kicks, but were put to the sword on two occasions late in the opening half when Johnathan Thurston weaved his magic to put Darius Boyd over for a double in the left corner.
“We had enough ball that first 25 minutes to score more than one try,” Jack said. “It looks like we lack ideas when it comes to creating tries. All we rely on is kicks from our halves to score points. We didn’t even look like ‘scoring’ a try all night. We had enough possession to win but on our critical plays all we rely upon is kicks.”
Jack isn’t alone in his criticism of the Blues’ attack, with former NSW halfback Steve Mortimer also admitting that Pearce isn’t getting the job done. However, he remains unconvinced that there is anyone else putting their hand up for the job and suggested instead that Blues coach Ricky Stuart must stick solid with his squad.
“I agree with Garry but what halfback reserves do we have that can [create tries]?” he queried. “I like young Mitchell but he’s not a game-breaker. He is tough, he has got a good kicking game but when it comes to the catalyst for creating opportunities, Todd Carney is your man.
“If we had a halfback like that too we’d have a combo similar to Thurston and Lockyer when they were together – but we don’t have that at the moment.
“What we saw last night was an experienced team versus an inexperienced team.
“I thought NSW actually played very well. We’ve got to stick with the same cattle so that we’ve got stability, because most of the boys were very good.”
The Blues at least answered a few questions with Farah, Jarryd Hayne, James Tamou and Michael Jennings – despite his costly sin-binning – all justifying their selection with strong performances.
Jennings was this morning slapped with a one-week ban for striking Brent Tate, but that simply solves a headache for Penrith coach Ivan Cleary this weekend given that he wasn’t named in the Panthers squad to take on Manly. He will certainly be picked for Origin II.
If there are to be significant changes to the NSW squad, they will likely come on the bench where the roles of Jamie Buhrer and Tony Williams must face some scrutiny.
Buhrer played just seven minutes last night and had no impact while Williams showed signs of the threat he can pose in 23 minutes of play – but was clearly struggling to keep up with the pace after seven weeks on the sidelines.
The most likely possible replacements are Ryan Hinchcliffe to fill the utility role, or recalling Anthony Watmough as another running forward.
However, Jack said changes in the forwards would make little difference while the Blues still struggled to cross the stripe.
“We had enough ball to score points and we didn’t,” he said. “Queensland knew they were in a tough game but we lack ideas in the halves – and it’s not the first time it has happened. We’ve lacked ideas for a few years.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that we need to look at the halfback. I’m not blaming Mitchell Pearce for the loss – he is only part of the problem – but his job is to create opportunities, not to kick it away.
“Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk created opportunities and set up tries on the back of less possession than us. We just use the kick at the end of the six; and that to me is not playing footy.”
Positives for the Blues included another inspirational performance from captain Paul Gallen, who ran for a massive 230 metres, the combination of Jennings and Hayne on the left edge with the pair making 151 and 168 metres respectively, and the input of Farah who was by far the side’s most threatening player with the ball in hand.
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