For almost a decade, an endless line of New South Welshmen have challenged and perished at the hands of the greatest Queensland side Rugby League will ever see – a who’s who of footballing royalty including Paul Gallen, Craig Bellamy, Jarryd Hayne and current Blues coach Laurie Daley.
Eighty-nine men have been put in front of Mal Meninga’s charges, and all 89 have fallen victim in New South Wales’ desperate quest to regain the State of Origin shield. They have tried and failed to bring what we once took for granted back to Sydney.
Four captains, four coaches and 81 other sky blue souls vanquished by the Maroon empire across the border.
Captains like legendary rake Danny Buderus, fellow Novocastrian Kurt Gidley, current leader Gallen, and the man who stepped into Gallen’s role for game three of the 2013 series, Robbie Farah.
Four NSW coaches have also put their hand up to be the architect of Queensland’s downfall, only to see be chewed up and spat out, too. The late, great Graham Murray, the intense Storm sage Craig Bellamy, the obsessively passionate Ricky Stuart, and current mentor Laurie Daley have all taken their places in history as Mal Meninga’s defeated counterparts.
Daley has a chance on Wednesday evening to make history.
Then there are the rest of the players, expendable pawns in a never-ending war.
Legends like Nathan Hindmarsh, Brett Kimmorley, Steve Menzies, Jamie Lyon, Craig Fitzgibbon, Mark Gasnier and Luke Lewis – players who tasted Origin victories in a bygone era, but who have all become more recent statistics in a world where Greg Inglis, Johnathan Thurston and Darren Lockyer dominate Origin series highlight reels.
There are others far less memorable who have been thrown in the deep end and have never come back out. Like one-gamer Steve Turner, who may still have Inglis’ palm imprinted on his face after a nightmare at Suncorp Stadium in 2008; Brett Hodgson, whose wayward pass in the 2006 decider saw Lockyer score under the posts to lock up the series in Melbourne; or Michael Ennis’ fists of fury that cost the Blues victory in the 2010 dead-rubber at the Olympic precinct.
Talented playmakers such as Peter Wallace, Jarrod Mullen, Terry Campese, Todd Carney, Jamie Soward and James Maloney, installed as creative saviours only to be axed as quickly as they came. And let’s not forget Mitchell Pearce, who spent six long years as the halfback behind a losing pack.
The record books will forever show these men as the unlucky ones, destined to be forgotten as this historic run becomes folklore in the decades ahead.
Queensland might be wounded and below 100 per cent this Wednesday night, but they are the rulers for a reason. Over eight years this team of champions has played like a champion team, and it will take another wonderful performance from the Blues to get their drought-breaking bid over the line.
And what could play just as much of a factor on Wednesday night is that garrison of 89 men. The 18 Blues (including Daley) will be striving for glory not only for themselves, but also for the 71 others – most of whom will never receive another opportunity at the highest level.
State of Origin has always been won – every single game – by the side that is willing to push themselves to physical limits the other side will not go to. If it becomes a matter of self-doubt, the Blues are in trouble.
The Blues must take game two by the scruff of the neck from the outset and squeeze the Maroons into submission as quickly as they can. The last thing NSW needs is to give Queensland a sniff. The Blues have an opportunity to stop the rot and the only way they can do that is by creating their own history.
Whether they care to admit it or not, there is a weight on the Blues’ shoulders that only they can lift. Queensland, on the other hand, will be preying on any signs of weakness, something the Origin overlords have become masters at. They are an avalanche of greatness, and if given the chance they’ll snap it up – and before you know it they will be heading back to Brisbane for game three with the series locked at 1-1.
The majority of these Blues know about defeat and being on the pointy end of Queensland’s sword.
They need to be the first to strike on Wednesday, putting the Maroons out of the game as early as possible.
If they don’t, Origin’s status quo will resume.
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