NSW Origin diary: Smooth sailing at Coffs
Having spent the pre-Origin week at the Pacific Bay Resort in Coffs Harbour, I can safely say it is the least eventful build-up of the four NSW VB Blues camps I have covered. Here are my observations from the week.
Tuesday: Team named at The Star
The only dramas in the NSW build-up came with the ongoing hip injury to captain Paul Gallen and suspension to Origin stalwart Greg Bird, but both had already been ruled out before the side was named for Game One.
The players arrived at The Star around 8:30am on Tuesday ahead of the midday team announcement and lunch, and 1pm media opportunity. This mixed session lasted two hours and I applaud the NSWRL and the NSW players for the highly facilitative session where media had full access to the entire squad, who were generous with their time and thoughts.
From there the squad took their bags straight to the airport. By the time they'd checked in and done a quick team session where coach Laurie Daley outlined what he wanted during the week, players said they had little energy left for much more than dinner and bed in Coffs.
Wednesday: Training in the pouring rain
Some rough weather meant the first field session in Coffs Harbour took place on a spongy field in pouring rain. Beau Scott and Josh Morris handled the media commitments before the session, and halves Trent Hodkinson and Mitchell Pearce addressed the group before each session much like Hodkinson had done with Josh Reynolds in each game last year.
Regular captain Paul Gallen was on hand for the day and while he took no part in training he was able to share his thoughts with the younger players.
Despite being one of the best media talents among all current players it was a low-key one-day visit for Gallen, who elected not to speak to journalists because he didn't want to be the focus of the week.
Also on hand were 18th man Tyson Frizell and 19th man Matt Moylan, who would each take part in every training session and stayed with the squad throughout.
Thursday: No news is good news for boozeless Blues
Titans Ryan James and Greg Bird joined the group with each to play an important role in opposed sessions later in the week and Bird, like Gallen, sharing his experience with junior squad members.
The biggest news seemed to be the small "bio" patches strapped to each player's arms to measure sleep and stress levels, and the fact the players had shunned alcohol in the search for a faultless build-up.
Roosters Michael Jennings and Boyd Cordner handled the day's media commitments, with each noting clubmate Mitch Pearce had settled in beautifully and hasn't been distracted by any of the pre-Origin hype.
With a rest day scheduled for Friday a couple of beers really wouldn't have done any harm but as members of the support staff treated themselves to a few ales in the Novotel bar after a hard couple of days, even the players who joined them weren't spotted with a beer. Times have changed.
Friday: World record FIFA session
With the players free to do pretty much whatever they wanted and no media commitments, I elected to spend most of Friday in my room catching up on transcribing and writing yarns from earlier in the week.
Above me, in what I believe was Michael Jennings' room, a candidate for the longest and loudest FIFA session ever played was taking place.
I'm not sure how many players were involved or who won or even if they were on Xbox or Playstation but I can promise you they were enjoying themselves. Simultaneous roars of delight or outrage occasionally startled guests walking along the adjacent golf course, where at one stage Greg Bird was spotted doing a poor job of trying to chip out of a bunker and Ryan James was seen inspecting a bush looking for a stray ball.
While the players may not be drinking, the media are under no such obligation and a group of us headed out to dinner in town. As we piled out of a minicab back at the resort around 10:30pm we passed Mitch Pearce on his way out of the hotel bar.
The very-much sober Roosters playmaker, with a bottle of water in each hand, cordially greeted the far less sober journos and shared a joke or two before making his way up to his room. The 30-second encounter not only affirmed the lack of drinking and the general professionalism of the players, but also how at-ease the more matured Roosters premiership-winner is these days.
Saturday: Things start getting intense
On Saturday five NYC stars, including Manly fullback Tom Trbojevic, joined the squad for the two all-important opposed sessions.
The weather had long since dried up, and the two men up for media, Trent Merrin and James Tamou, were full of praise for how the two debutants, Josh Jackson and David Klemmer, had settled into the Origin side.
Media were allowed to watch the warm up but were ushered away from the field before the business part of the session as Daley looked to keep his game plans well and truly under wraps.
Sunday: Smoothest build-up ever?
Back-rower Ryan Hoffman had a quick chat for the cameras before the final session of the week and by now there were so few talking points or controversies we were actually running out of questions to ask.
The team had a final lunch at the hotel before flying back to Sydney where no doubt the enormity of the build-up would be harder to escape.
There are no guarantees around what will happen on Wednesday night, but if the Blues don't win it won't be down to a lack of preparation. It's hard to think how the seven days leading up to Origin I could have gone more smoothly for Daley's men.