Controversial Blues centre Michael Jennings has heaped praise on coach Ricky Stuart for helping him regain his confidence after hauling him out of NSW Cup to take his place in this year’s State of Origin series.
The prospect of an Origin decider at Suncorp Stadium was the furthest thing from Jennings’ mind two months ago when he was dumped to feeder club Windsor Wolves by Penrith coach Ivan Cleary. But after being given a reprieve when he was called into the NSW squad for game one, Jennings told NRL.com it was the faith shown in him by Stuart that has helped bring out his best ahead of Wednesday night’s big game.
“Sticky has always had faith in me and he went all out by picking me [for game one],” Jennings said. “For him to have that faith in me was unbelievable. But I’m glad he stuck by me.
“I’ve had to repay him by making sure I do my job. All I can do now is to make sure I show why he picked me. I have to do my job to the best of my ability.”
Jennings admitted to plenty of nerves before taking the field in Melbourne for Origin I but said he took plenty of confidence out of his performance in the controversial 18-10 loss.
Ironically, it was his sin-binning shortly before half-time that turned the match in Queensland’s favour; but he also scored a try, made two line-breaks and ran for 151 metres.
“It gave me a lot of confidence coming off that game,” Jennings continued. “I’ve been happy. I’m happy that Sticky has had faith in my ability and he has been happy with my performance. I can see that I can still improve and can still do more for the Blues but all I can do now is stick to my game plan and so what’s best for the boys.
“The important thing is to stay positive and keep doing my thing. I’ll be focusing on what I need to do to play my best game on the day.”
The Blues will stare down the barrel of a seventh consecutive series loss should they go down on Wednesday night, but Jennings believes this current NSW squad is better placed than ever to end Queensland’s dominance.
Asked if he felt the Blues had been the better side over the opening two games, he replied: “Yeah and that’s the good thing about it – that we still have a lot of improving to do. We did dominate in both games but it shows that there are still a lot of areas we can improve on as a team.”
Jennings also suggested that the Maroons were more vulnerable than ever following the retirement of Darren Lockyer and an injury crisis that has hit them hard heading into game three.
“They’re not the same without Lockyer,” he observed. “Obviously Slater is out too and there are question marks over a few players. But all we’re worrying about is what we need to do to improve on our performance from games one and two.”
The Blues have made three changes for the decider, with Brett Morris drafted in to replace Akuila Uate and injured back-rower Glenn Stewart’s place taken by Beau Scott. Tony Williams returns on the bench after missing game two.
However, the big news to emerge overnight is that instead of playing outside his brother Josh on the right wing, NSW coach Stuart intends to reinstate Brett Morris on the left wing and shift Jarryd Hayne to the right flank. Splitting up Hayne and Jennings is a bold move – given the pair have caused Queensland all sorts of problems already this series.
“I reckon coming into camp and seeing all the boys now, I just feel privileged to be playing alongside some great players,” he said. “There is experience in this team now. To play alongside great players like Carney and Pearcey, that brings a benefit to my game and helps me out a lot.”
Jennings described the prospect of finally winning an Origin series as a dream come true.
“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It’s going to be a massive game. To win the series – I think it would be similar to winning a grand final. I haven’t won a grand final and I haven’t played in a grand final.
“So I’m pumped but at the same time I need to make sure I prepare as usual for any other game. I know it’s a big game but you can’t miss anything in your preparation.”
Who are you rooming with?
“Haynesy. We’ve been room-mates all series. He’s messy but a good room-mate. We play a lot of FIFA together – I’m the champion!”
Do you have a specific match-day routine?
“I do but it’s a big routine and involves the whole day. It’s basically just staying relaxed, going for a walk in the morning, a swim – it’s doing relaxing things during the day.”
Who is the biggest joker in the Blues squad?
“It was Akuila [Uate] but I’d say T-Rex [Tony Williams] now.”
Who have you learnt the most from during this year’s series?
“I’ve learnt a lot from Sticky, but probably the whole team. Each individual comes and teaches you a bit about their game, you learn from each player which is a great positive and a great bonus as well.”
What do you do in your down time?
“Just relaxing. I like to play a bit of Playstation in my down time with Haynesy, maybe go get some lunch down the road, and that’s about it.”
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