Coach's Box: Stuart's master stroke
Channel 9 commentator Phil Gould said during the Origin coverage on Wednesday night that if Ricky Stuart's NSW Blues win the 2011 series it will be recognised as one of the greatest coaching performances of all-time.
I would have to agree with that.
Last week I wrote that he had picked the NSW team for Game II as Stuart the competitor and the gambler.
Both paid off as the Blues levelled the series 18-8 at ANZ Stadium in front of a crowd of almost 82,000.
The competitor in Stuart made changes to the team to get a winning combination despite getting bagged for not sticking with exactly the same as Game I (barring injury); and the gamble to play captain Paul Gallen in the front-row for the first time was a master stroke.
Not many Origin props would have played 80 minutes (he is the first since Glenn Lazarus in 1996); although he's not a traditional prop. But to play a full game and do what he did - making 211m in 27 carries and effecting 31 tackles - was amazing.
He could have played in 13 and done a similar role, but the point was made. It was an outright genius play by Ricky Stuart.
Having said that, I wouldn't like to see that strategy adopted at club level. It would force the big guys out of the game ... they couldn't produce a Gallen-like performance week-in week-out for 24 weeks.
Origin is different; it is one of those unique sports and contests. It needs extreme athletes, both mind and body. Sometimes big blokes are not exactly what is needed. But I would hate to see that sound the death knoll on the big kids coming through the ranks from under 15s.
Origin needs to be treated differently in all aspects. Coaching Origin is a unique experience. It is more demanding than a club job, although it is for a shorter period of time.
What Stuart has done, just as Mal Meninga did with the Maroons, is show you need a full-time coach. I hope the independent commision sees it that way.
The result in just under three weeks will add weight to that argument. Interestingly, recent stats favour NSW for the decider. Queensland have won Game II every year for the last five years - and have gone on to win each of those series.
But there is a real mountain to climb for the decider for NSW, given it will be Maroons captain Darren Lockyer's last ever Origin game.
The Maroons will be hoping to give their skipper a fairtytale ending to his Origin career... but it doesn't always work that way. And the effect of the roaring fans in the sold-out Suncorp Stadium may be negated; if it's too loud you can't hear what they're chanting.
Emotion plays a real role in those games ... it's mind over matter in Origin. They're all fit and tough and they know the game and their roles.
It will be a massive 10 days for Lockyer leading up to the match. He's not a person to go out and do a lot but there will be lots of hype and Queensland's focus could be lost.
Queensland could overcook with the Lockyer farewell with too much emotion and nervous tension, and a feeling that they must win it for Lockyer.
NSW just need to keep doing what they have been doing. They need to stick with the magical formula Stuart has come up with - not be intimidated by Queensland; play for 80 minutes; and really have a red hot dig. He has picked the right team each time.
Adding Luke Lewis, Kurt Gidley and Anthony Watmough to the bench in Game II brought a lot of energy to the team - and bringing in Anthony Minichiello was a great pick.
The energy they brought to the team was was outstanding. Sometimes your bench can win you the game; it can influence what happens on the football field.
I think Queensland will be a little nervous about things for Game III on July 6 adter taking a narrow win in round one and beaing beaten by a better team in round two.
There's going to be a hell of a build-up for the decider. I can't wait for it.