I admire what NSW have done in this 2011 Harvey Norman State of Origin series... they have put life back into Origin. Off the field it was one of the best I can remember.
It wasn’t spiteful but it was intriguing. I am sure NSW coach Ricky Stuart and his Queensland counterpart Mal Meninga will remain good friends despite all the banter in the media.
While NSW didn’t win the series, the tide is starting to turn. I really think NSW got it right with Ricky as full-time coach; the staff he handpicked; and a good group of players. Ricky did a really, really good job. All you can do is prepare as best you can. Ricky Stuart can hold his head up high.
It was great NSW didn’t mix and match players and combinations each game just because they may not have worked perfectly. I’ve been guilty of it and so have others coaches in the past.
Queensland haven’t made many changes over the past six years they won the series. When one of their regulars comes back from injury, like Justin Hodges, they go straight into the side. It wouldn’t have mattered if Hodges was playing second grade, Queensland would have put him back into the Origin team.
NSW have to do that. If they say Michael Jennings is an Origin player, if he is fit, he should be picked, regardless of whether he is playing first or second grade.
That’s the mentality NSW have to have. They have to stick with those who gave it their all.
They weren’t far off in this series, despite being outclassed in Game III. They went really close in Game I and got a win in Game II … and sometimes a team learns more out of a loss than a win.
Queensland got a lot out of that loss in Game II ... they were humbled, hungrier and more determined as a result.
NSW prepared well enough and picked the best players available, but they were beaten by a better team on Wednesday night. Queensland have got the best four players in the world in their respective positions - Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, Darren Lockyer and Johnathan Thurston - and they have been the best for some years.
Over this period of time they have developed a good team spirit. As a coach, I have been asked how do you develop that? You have to share experiences - and they’ve been doing it for six years.
They have been through challenges together; some tough times, but most have been successful. That has built them into an unbeatable team.
The “Locky factor” (Darren Lockyer’s final Origin match of his illustrious career) was always going to make the decider a difficult task for the Blues, especially in light of the incredible team spirit within the Queensland side.
Because they have developed such a good spirit, no one wanted to let Lockyer down in his last game for Queensland. Publicly not a lot was said by Lockyer and the team but privately it would have been different.
As coach I used to love it when there was a player milestone, and you'd make a big deal of it. I was coaching at the Cowboys when it was Paul Bowman’s 200th game and I wanted to rest Johnathan Thurston. It was the week before the semi-final but he insisted on playing because he wanted to make it special for Paul. I couldn’t argue with him.
I know what JT would have been thinking last night and he would have been rallying to make it special for Lockyer … and to win.
While it may not have lived up to being one of the great games of Origin, it fulfilled the expectations of many in so many other areas. Every game was packed out and the intrigue around the match in the build-up was fantastic.
The crowd tells you if they want to watch it - if the games are good and they don’t know who’s going to win - and all three games were played in front of a sell-out crowd.
Not only that, the Series decider apparently was the most watched Origin game ever, attracting a national average audience of over 3.7million.