NSW coach Brad Fittler has told his players they have a rare opportunity to create history by ending a 40-year hoodoo to become the first Blues team to win a State of Origin series with back-to-back victories in Queensland.
With Origin I on June 9 shifted from Melbourne to Townsville due to a COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria, NSW have to travel to Queensland for the opening two matches of the series for the first time since 1982 – and are aiming to do what the Max Krillich-led Blues could not.
Featuring the likes of Ray Price, Steve Mortimer and Craig Young, the 1982 team won the first Origin at Lang Park 20-16 but lost the second game at the same venue, with the Maroons winning 11-7 after a late Paul Vautin try.
The Blues were again beaten 10-5 in the series decider at the SCG.
After triumphing 50-6 in the series opener at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Fittler has made the Blues players aware of the shot at history awaiting them when they face the Maroons at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday night.
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They can also become the first NSW team to win a decider in Brisbane since 2005 – a feat the Blues have achieved on just one other occasion, in 1994.
“Origin is always about the history of it and how it come about, and the opportunities available,” Fittler said.
“The history has been a huge part of the success of State of Origin and we try to make sure that the players know as much about that as possible.
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“We haven’t played two games in Queensland to start a series since 1982 so it makes it exciting and it makes it a great challenge.
“I think we have got a really good group here, it’s a good footy team without a doubt, and it is something they should aspire to.
“The 1982 team didn’t do it, they got beat in the last two games so it is a challenge for us to try and do that.”
Krillich has backed the 2021 Blues to achieve what his team was unable to but Vautin believes Queensland can hit back to level the series like they did in 1982.
“I think we will win but Queensland are going to have Josh Papali’i back and Cameron Munster will be better with another game under his belt," said Krillich, the former Manly, NSW and Australian hooker and captain.
"The Queenslanders always lift but having Harry Grant out is a massive bonus for NSW. I reckon he is probably a better player than Cameron Smith."
Vautin, who played 21 Origins and coached the Maroons to arguably their greatest-ever series triumph in 1995, believes Queensland's "famed spirit" will again come to the fore on Sunday night.
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"We have done amazing things in the past - last year and there has been plenty of other years," Vautin said.
"All through the 1980s, despite the players we had, NSW always had the better team but it didn’t matter and this is another one of those situations where our guys have got to get stuck in and let them know what they're about.
"I thought in the first game that NSW played it like an Origin and I felt that we played it like a club game. I don’t reckon one NSW player walked off with a bruise and that has got to change in Origin II or we are going to get left behind."
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Blues guns chasing legend status
The Blues had a chance to create history in their most recent trip to Suncorp Stadium for last year’s decider but lost 20-14 as the Wayne Bennett-coached Maroons stopped NSW from claiming a third consecutive series win under Fittler’s coaching.
However, victory in Brisbane on Sunday night would render last season’s result a blip in an era of NSW domination and help propel the likes of Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic to a similar status as Smith, Billy Slater, Greg Inglis and Johnathan Thurston when the Maroons won nine series in a row.
“There are some boys there with some big visions and the best way for them to do that is to do things that haven’t been done before,” Fittler said.
“They know the impact they can have on rugby league in NSW. We spoke about it last year.
“You watch Latrell stand up and talk about how he can have an impact now. He is obviously trying to stand up for some pretty important things in society, and the best way for him to do that is to play good under pressure. That has the biggest impact.”
After his Origin I heroics and form for Manly this season, Trbojevic is already being hailed as a future great and Fittler said the way he played centre in the series opener had the potential to revolutionise backline play.
“The way he just brings himself into the game is pretty impressive at the moment and he takes a lot of defending,” Fittler said.
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“I think it is a good lesson to all coaches and players, that not everyone has to play the same way.”
Krillich predicted Trbojevic could become one of the best players in the game but said he has to maintain his form over a long period before he can attain that status.
“He is good as Billy Slater and Graeme Langlands and all of the other great fullbacks of their day but you have got to remember guys like Bob Fulton and Andrew Johns did it for year upon year.
"That is what I want to see Tommy do. I’m looking forward to his next six or eight years because I think he is fantastic."
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Modern Blues have the right attitude
Krillich said NSW were in a better position to create history by winning back-to-back games in Queensland than his 1982 team had been because the current Blues were better prepared and took the Origin concept more seriously.
“It was extremely difficult in those days because NSW players had to back up from a Sunday game for their clubs and play two or three days later in Origin,” Krillich said.
“We obviously got leg tired all the time because we weren’t full-time professionals like they are now so we used to run out of steam and Wally Lewis would come over the top of us.”
The second match of the 1982 series at Lang Park was the first Origin refereed by colourful Queensland-based whistle blower Barry Gomersall, who NSW players believed favoured his home state.
“I was on stage one day with Barry and I asked him about it,” Krillich said. “He said, ‘I live in Queensland, you don’t. I had to look after the Queenslanders’.
“The rub of the green always seemed to go their way and we always knew we were up against it playing at Lang Park in those days. They would support their team and do whatever they had to do – scream abuse and throw cans on the field. Some were half full.
“We’d be in the dressing room and they’d be stomping on the roof. It was very intimidating. But to be honest, our attitude when we played back then was pretty ordinary.
“Our desire was just to playing well enough to get in the Australian team, whereas these days it’s all about playing for NSW, which is a much better attitude than what we had.”
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Maroons must take old-school approach
Vautin, who came on as a reserve in his second Origin appearance with Queensland winning 8-7 and scored a late try, said the Maroons were determined not to suffer back-to-back losses at Lang Park.
“We were pretty pumped,” Vautin said. “Origin was very new to us all and it was great times for young blokes like myself, Wally Lewis and Paul McCabe.
“NSW didn’t really get into Origin until probably 1985, but to us it was the be-all and end-all.”
Vautin believes the Maroons need to take a lead from their 1982 counterparts and do whatever it takes to win Origin II on Sunday night and ensure the series is decided at Stadium Australia on July 14.
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“I felt that we were intimidated, not necessarily by NSW but by the refs and the rules, and what we couldn’t do,” Vautin said.
“There is some extra leeway in Origin and I commend [referee] Gerard Sutton. I thought he did an excellent job in that game, but Queensland played to club rules and they should have got stuck in more.
“State of Origin is a pretty basic game, and NSW ran harder and they tackled a lot harder than we did. We were just off. Very few of them stood up.
“I am not saying we have got to go out and fight them but we have got to get in the trenches, which we didn’t do in the first game. If we do that our famed spirit can do anything but we have got to play well to stop them.”
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.