Blues' new guard's tribute to leaders past
This year's State of Origin campaign represents the dawning of a new era for the Sky Blues but the new leaders in the powerful young forward pack say they could never have achieved what they have without the legacy created over the past decade by Paul Gallen, Anthony Watmough, Greg Bird and Luke Lewis.
While any of the aforementioned four could yet add to their combined 65 Origin caps this year (with the exception of the suspended Bird) the sun is certainly setting on their representative careers and the next generation know they are needed to fill the breach.
The pack chosen by Blues mentor Laurie Daley this year features old heads in hooker and captain Robbie Farah and starting back-rowers Beau Scott and Ryan Hoffman, who are each 31, but no-one else in the pack is older than 26-year-old James Tamou, and that core group could easily form the basis of the Blues pack for years to come.
Tamou told NRL.com that Watmough was the one who really helped him when he first came into Origin and would look to try and learn from those lessons and try to perform a similar role himself for the newer players now coming in.
"You know what, I had a look around [on Tuesday at the announcement] and I sort of thought it was [strange], especially with no Gal, Birdy – and Choc [Watmough], he was the one that really took me under his wing when I first came in so it's weird not to see him around.
"With Gal, his leadership skills are second to none and with Birdy, we're going to miss his presence. As a footballer he definitely has everything you want in someone you want to play beside you on the field there.
"Even beside the footy side of everything, even just in camp it's going to be different but I'm pretty happy with the side, it's a young side and an enthusiastic side so I'm pretty happy with what we've got at the moment."
Tamou was highly appreciative of the help Watmough gave him in his early games.
"I was fairly young coming in, I was quiet, didn't know too many people and he took me under his wing and we've been good friends ever since and he would have done the same with Trent Merrin, he would have done the same with a lot of these boys.
"As much as he likes to laugh and have a joke he's got a serious side to him and he showed that the last few times in Origin camp and that's how he gets the respect from everyone. Everyone knows he does a great job on the field but off the field as well is a whole other thing.
"I still remember that like it was yesterday. It was such a helpful thing and it helped me get into the group and helped me play to my best ability so I want to look at doing that sort of thing with these boys and tell them 'it's a busy week in Origin so try and put all that behind you'."
One of the key lessons Tamou will look to pass on is the need to relax during the week and not wear yourself out mentally over-thinking the game.
He will now challenge himself to try and take on more of a leadership role, although he insisted the other three props in the squad – Aaron Woods, Andrew Fifita and David Klemmer – are all coming into the series playing better football than Tamou himself.
"I think we can all sort of chip in there as to what out strong points are and help each other out there. With that in mind I sort of want to tell them 'you're big and strong and you're playing good footy mate, do what you do best' so hopefully they take something out of that."
While Tamou is heading into his fourth interstate series, Trent Merrin is heading into his fifth, and he strongly feels the need to stand up and take on a leadership role.
"Not having those sort of blokes I looked up to when I first came into camp, it's a new feeling walking in here without those sorts of players," Woods said.
"But in saying that we've got some great young players here and it's very exciting, just to see the look on their faces walking in was unreal."
Merrin also nominated Watmough as one player who'd been great for him coming into Origin.
"Choccy's a leader and he does everything for the boys. That's definitely something I've taken out of Choccy's book and the same with Birdy and Gal. They're leaders and they're the players you want to play with. That's definitely something I'm going to take from them and try and instil in these young players."
He said one of the key lessons in the condensed Origin build-up is that what you do away from the field is as important as what you do on it.
"To have those leaders and those men in that team really brings the team together. It's a job on us older boys now to do the same.
"It's exciting and there's a challenge there. There are some big shoes to fill to try and instil what Choccy, Gal and Birdy have brought to the camps."
Ryan Hoffman said new skipper Robbie Farah had done a good job as leader of the group during the week, adding it had been up to himself and fellow senior players Beau Scott and Josh Morris to assists Farah in that leadership role as the side begins to transition to a new leadership group.
"Myself, Beauy and J Moz, we just help him when we can but obviously not overbearing for Robbie. I think we've got a really good system in place and if and when Gal comes back he'll slip straight into it and we'll have the same leadership capabilities," Hoffman said.
"Loz [Daley] brought a few of us in and let us know what he wants to achieve and how he wants to go about it. You can get caught up in these things of being so ridiculously perfect and that everyone gets a bit on edge and you get a bit stressed and that translates on the field.
"You can always tell when a team's really hesitant and unsure but everyone's relaxed because we're focused on the big picture, we're focused on Wednesday night and we're building into it rather than having to be perfect. Every single moment of every single day, we're getting those teething problems out now."