Coach's Box: NSW's Origin gamble
The talk around Blues selections leading into this State of Origin Series was based on a philosophy and ideal of building for the future over the next three years, with minimal changes
(barring injury/suspension) and coach Ricky Stuart declaring he would be happy winning just one game in 2011.
Heading into Game II at Sydney's ANZ Stadium next Wednesday what has happened is the competitor has taken over the coach.
I'm fine with that - at the end of the day you want to win as many games as you can.
As well as the competitor, the gambler has come out too and I believe that Stuart reckons Origin II will be a lot quicker than Game I and he has picked a team that reflects that.
I wouldn't be surprised to see fair bit of pressure and media about the speed of the play-the-ball in the lead-up to the game as it was slow in the first game.
If NSW want to win they have to get that happening.
Six changes have been made to the Blues for the next Origin, which Stuart says is "that one game" he wants to win. Four of those changes were because of injuries to Brett Morris, Kade Snowden, Josh Dugan and Michael Jennings.
New to the side for Game II are Luke Lewis, Kurt Gidley and Anthony Watmough as interchange players, Anthony Minichiello at fullback, Jarryd Hayne on the wing and Will Hopoate in the centres.
I would have picked Jamal Idris. He was good enough to play for Australia. I find it diffcult to understand how NSW selectors couldn't find a spot for him.
The choice of Will Hopoate instead of Idris at centre is a surprise, given he has played mostly on the wing and also at fullback. Centre is one of the hardest positions in playing defence; a lot of things happen in the line of duty. If you make errors in that spot it can be costly.
I fully agree with the selection of Lewis and Gidley because there is no doubt they would have been there in Game I had they not been injured. So I don't really class their inclusions as a decision to leave people out, rather an automatic move to bring them in. They are class Origin players and deserve their spots.
Hayne, who plays fullback for the Eels, was sensational on the wing when he first came into Origin and I think it is going to take a long time for him to get to be playing five-eighth. (He was originally not chosen for Game I because he would have been playing out of position, and suggestions were made by Stuart that he would be best suited playing five-eighth in the future).
Anthony Minichiello's selection at fullback may have come as a shock to many - with three other fullbacks in the team in Gidley, Hayne and Hopoate - but I am a "Mini" fan and applaud the decision.
Like Stuart, I have coached Mini at the Roosters and in Origin and he is a top player and a former Golden Boot winner who would have played more rep footy if had avoided injury.
His fitness and energy are a key factor. He and Queensland's Billy Slater do more work than other fullbacks because of their fitness.
He will also have a good understanding of his Roosters team-mate and Blues halfback Mitchell Pearce.
The Maroons will be worried about him and coach Mal Meninga will have someone do their homework on him and what he does with his halfback at club level. They will have a plan ready for him.
Minichiello is also the only player in this NSW VB Blues side to have played in a winning Origin team as a member of the 2005 side.
Apart from the personnel changes, a nmumber of players have had some positional changes, like moving Paul Gallen from lock to prop.
Probably one of the reasons Gallen is in the front row is the gamble I mentioned earlier about Game II being played quicker. He is quick at the play-the-ball.
I was at Game I and it was very slow for Origin. There were fast people on the field, but the play-the-ball was slow. That suited Queensland props Petero Civoniceva and Matt Scott.
There are two new refs for this game too and I would expect there will be less leniency around the ruck than in Game I when few penalties were awarded.
One of the keys for NSW is that Jamie Soward has to be in charge of the kicking game, and he needs to get into the game early.
The more kicking he does the more confident he is. He is a better player when he is controlling that part of the game and has more impact. Pearce is a good back-up kicker but Soward should be the main kicker.
NSW can definitely win ... given all the ball they didn't have last time. They will have taken confidence out of that. If that happened in an NRL game they would have been beaten by 20-30 points.
I really believe this is their best chance ever to make it 1-1.