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Blues' brilliant backline: How current crop compares to Origin's best

In the wake of the devastating attacking display by the NSW Blues in Origin I in Townsville, comparisons between the 2021 backline and those of golden eras past were both inevitable and flattering.

They may have only 46 Origin games between them but the sizzling seven who made a mess of the Maroons in the series opener played with the sort of poise and composure that suggests they'll have many years together to add to that number.

Inspirational leader James Tedesco was playing in his 14th Origin, and all things being equal he's got a decent shot at surpassing Brad Fittler's Blues appearances record of 31 games.

And after Teddy surpasses Freddy they can both sit back at some stage down the track and watch the supremely gifted Nathan Cleary knock them both off the perch as he steers the ship for the next decade.

Having taken ownership of the team and looking more at home with each Origin he chalks up, 23-year-old Cleary has nine Blue caps to his name already and could well end up with 35 or more.

Maroons v Blues

When it comes to comparing the current Blues backline to those that delivered memorable series triumphs in 1985, 1993 and 2005, the men in the No.7 is the logical place to start, and Cleary will find himself in exalted company should his career development continue on its current upward trend.

Calling the shots as both skipper and playmaker when the Blues won their first ever series in 1985 was the brave Bulldog Steve Mortimer, who had endured three series defeats on the bounce before willing his state to victory and slumping to the SCG turf in a mixture of relief and ecstasy after the drought had been broken.

Steve Mortimer at the end of State of Origin, 1985.
Steve Mortimer at the end of State of Origin, 1985. ©NRL Photos

"We won the first game at Lang Park in '85 and then went to the SCG to try and finish the job in front of our own people," Mortimer recalled in '110 Years of Rugby League'.

"The feeling when Brett Kenny crossed to wrap up that second game was pure joy. I collapsed to the ground and and thanked God for the opportunity to make history for NSW."

Apart from Mortimer and Kenny, the Class of 1985 backline also featured fullback Garry Jack (17 Origins), wingers Eric Grothe (9) and John Ferguson (8) and centres Michael O'Connor (19) and Chris Mortimer (9).

In Kenny, Jack and O'Connor they boasted three men worthy of a spot in any 'best ever Blues' line-up while Grothe brought the raw power, Ferguson the flashing feet and Chris Mortimer the sheer bloody mindedness and will to win that every side craves.

Match Highlights: Blues v Maroons

They may never have run up a half century or turned on the razzle dazzle quite like Turbo and the boys did in Townsville but a place in Origin history is assured for the men who delivered NSW a maiden title after five years of pain.

Also no stranger to delivering series success was the Blue juggernaut of the early '90s, coached by the incomparable Phil Gould, captained by the unflappable Laurie Daley and guided around the park by the uncompromising Ricky Suart.

Having lost four of the five series between 1987-91, the Blues were desperate for an influx of new ideas and new blood, and in Gould and Daley they found two men made for the job of restoring Blue pride just as 'Turvey' Mortimer had done a decade earlier.

Match Highlights: Blues v Maroons

For his maiden voyage in 1992, Gould handed 22-year-old Daley the captaincy, pinning his faith in a man who had never captained a club side and was just five games into his Origin career.

It proved a masterstroke as Daley belied his years to inspire a magnificent 2-1 series win which launched a golden period of five series win in six years.

In the hunt for the greatest ever NSW backline, Daley's Class of 1993 reads like a who's who of Bluebloods, with the electric Tim Brasher in the No.1, Andrew Ettingshausen and Rod Wishart on the flanks, Fittler and Paul McGregor in the centres and Daley and his Raiders buddy Ricky Stuart at the scrumbase.

A potent mix of youth and experience, they possessed attacking weapons across the park and could mix it up in defence through 'ET', Fittler and Daley.

Stuart was at the peak of his powers having guided Canberra to premierships in 1989 and '90, and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat on the 1990 Kangaroo tour with his magical Manchester run to set up a rampaging Meninga for one of the most famous Test tries ever scored.

Honourable mention must also go to the Class of 2005, who boasted an Immortal in the No.7 jersey, two magic Dragons in the centres and Roosters royalty in the No.1.

In his first year as Blues coach, Stuart produced a masterstroke when he sent an SOS to Andrew Johns for Game Two, despite the fact 'Joey' had played just nine clubs games in 18 months due to a knee reconstruction and a broken jaw.

A golden point loss in the series opener had the Blues on tilt but Johns marched into camp ahead of the second match and immediately put his coach and teammates at ease.

Match Highlights: Blues v Maroons

"The first session Joey came to was at Woollahra Oval and we were blown away by how composed he was," said Blues centre Mark Gasnier in '40 Years of Origin'.

"You just knew when Joey walked in he was going to control everything."

And control things he did, laying on five tries as the Blues levelled the series and then going to another level again in the decider in Brisbane as the star-studded backline ran in six tries in a 32-10 victory, three of those going to Storm flyer Matt King and one each to Braith Anasta, Timana Tahu and Gasnier.

Match Highlights: Maroons v Blues

So there you have it, a roll call of brilliant Blues from Turvey's 1985 drought-breakers to Daley's all-star 1993 line-up, the Immortal-inspired Class of 2005 and the sleek 2021 model which ran riot in Townsville to enter their nomination for 'best ever Blues backline'.

Should Tedesco, Cleary and co repeat the dose at Suncorp Stadium on June 27 their stocks will rise again, but right now it's Daley's magnificent seven from 1993 getting the verdict.

 

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.

Origin II in Brisbane is sold out but tickets are still on sale for game three at Stadium Australia in Sydney on July 14 - get your tickets at NRL.com/tickets.