Ben Blaschke, NRL.com
Former Blues forwards Bryan Fletcher and Shaun Timmins have urged the NSWRL to do whatever it takes to convince Ricky Stuart to stay on board for next year’s State of Origin series, claiming there is no other coach available that can end the dominance of this current Queensland side.
Frustrated at having watched NSW fall to yet another series loss despite coming agonisingly close in the decider, Fletcher insists it will take something special to halt the Maroons’ run at seven but pointed go Stuart as the key reason the Blues very nearly produced just that at Suncorp Stadium last night.
“They said last night it was the least amount of players we’ve used for a long time and that’s what we need to do – we need that stability across the board and that includes ‘Sticky’,” Fletcher told NRL.com today.
“I don’t know if he can hang around but if anyone is going to do it, if NSW are to win, he’s got to be around. Because who else is there? Who would you pick?
“They can’t afford to lose him at the moment.
“The current bunch of boys are very young and should be around for a few more years but we can’t just wait for these Queensland guys to retire. I mean, last year we were saying ‘Locky will be gone now, we should be sweet’ but it didn’t turn out that way, did it?”
Timmins, who played nine Origins for NSW for six wins, two losses and a draw, said it would be difficult to replicate the passion that Stuart had instilled in his players.
“What he has done to this side has been amazing,” Timmins said.
“The passion he has brought, the self-belief – he is largely responsible for the fact that we’ve had such a great series. It’s unbelievable what he has done and it’s just sad that they couldn’t get the victory.
“I’d love to see him stay. I know he is after a full-time NRL job but he is the man they want leading them again next year.”
While there will be plenty of soul-searching among the NSW ranks over the coming days as to where it all went wrong again, Fletcher said it was important that they take a leaf out of Queensland’s book and stick solid with the majority of the current playing group.
Stuart spoke of similar things when he first took on the job in 2011, but still made changes to three of his four key position players this year, with halfback Mitchell Pearce the only survivor from last year’s series.
“I think that over the seven years we’ve lost it, this was the best side we’ve had,” he said. “But I just think that although we were close, Queensland have played together for so many years in their key positions that they know how to get out of trouble. Our blokes just haven’t played together and don’t know each other’s games well enough yet.
“I mean, Cooper Cronk jumps straight into 7 and doesn’t miss a beat, whereas we don’t have that. Our centres don’t know how to run off Todd Carney. That’s the big difference I could see.
“But we’re not far off. If NSW won last night Robbie Farah would have been man of the series, the backline is a bunch of young kids with four or five years to go and James Tamou and Timmy Grant were very impressive. If we stick with them, it will turn.”
Fletcher also insisted that the current squad would be much tougher to beat after dealing well with the immense pressure placed on them ahead of the decider.
“There was a lot of pressure and they kept talking about it being the biggest Origin ever. Was it? Really? What was so different about last year or the year before?” Fletcher said. “We just put way too much pressure on them. They didn’t crumble but it’s a lot of pressure to put on these young kids. Most of them have only been there for a year or two, so they weren’t even a part of most of those seven series losses.”
North of the border, the departure of retiring prop Petero Civoniceva doesn’t appear to be cause for too much concern given the impressive performances of Ben Hannant and David Shillington in this year’s series.
But Timmins predicted we could expect to see some changes in the NSW back row with a number of young stars pushing their claims.
“I thought Greg Bird was outstanding this year but there are some youngsters that will be knocking on the door,” Timmins said. “Tariq Sims is one that springs to mind if he can stay fit and Tony Williams showed his potential. There are some impressive young back-rowers coming through that will put pressure on the current blokes and that can only be a good thing as far as I’m concerned.”