New South Wales Blues coach Michael Maguire has given the biggest suggestion yet that incumbency means nothing for the Origin side.
The Blues brains trust copped heat for a number of selections in this year’s series and the microscope will be firmly on Maguire when the Origin I side is announced next season.
NSW has long enjoyed a Panthers combination in the spine with Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai and Isaah Yeo all selected in the opening two matches this year. Brian To’o, Stephen Crichton and Liam Martin were also part of the side.
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Much of the criticism of Brad Fittler during his coaching tenure came around the persistence with those combinations while he also copped heat over James Tedesco’s selection after the skipper’s uncharacteristic slide in form.
Speaking at the press conference, naming him as coach, Maguire was keeping an “open page” on selection.
“I’m going to keep a really open page on where I go (with selections). I’m big on form,” he said.
“The biggest thing I’ll say to all the players is just to go out and play the best footy that you can play because that’ll play a big part in where we go as a group.
“When you’ve got people in really good form and they’re coming into camp with a positive mindset about how they want to do things, I go after those players.
“At the end of the day, I have a pretty open sheet.
“That’s the joys of being able to start fresh and allow the players to not have to think. I just want them to play, and if they do that then the performances will sort things out over time.”
The announcement of Maguire, his coaching and high performance staff gives Blues fans’ hope to break the Maroons two-year streak, but what are the biggest questions to come from it?
After the Kangaroos lost against the Kiwis, the knives have sharpened for champion fullback James Tedesco.
Will he survive?
It’s a big question, mainly because of the depth NSW have in the position.
Latrell Mitchell will come back from injury, Dylan Edwards has won three premierships in a row and Tom Trbojevic is the best player in the competition on his day.
Scott Drinkwater was also in the Blues squad for game three, while Clint Gutherson was selected on the bench.
Tedesco’s start to the season with the Roosters could make or break his Origin career.
Is the ‘Pantherisation’ over?
It’s been the biggest criticism of the NSW side, particularly on social media.
The presence of no Panthers player in the spine for the Blues in game three, which Fittler’s men won, gave the critics plenty of fire with only To’o, Crichton and Martin in the starting side, while Yeo was benched.
Mitchell Moses, Cody Walker, Tedesco and Damien Cook made up the spine with Cam Murray at lock.
Nathan Cleary would be a lock to return but the rest is a mystery and it appears the supposed ‘Pantherisation’ of NSW is over … for now.
Who’s in contention for captaincy?
James Tedesco is the incumbent but if he wasn’t selected, who’s left to choose from?
Cam Murray has been inspirational for the Blues every time he steps on the field but he’ll face a fight to play in the starting side with Isaah Yeo a contender for lock.
Keaon Koloamatangi impressed at second-row when he started in game three while Liam Martin should be the No.11 for the Blues for another five years at least.
Nathan Cleary could also take the reins, in a sign that this side has truly become his.
To throw a diamond in the rough, Jake Trbojevic has never let the Blues down either. You wouldn’t find many fans upset if the c was next to the inspirational prop’s name.
How big is the inclusion of Frank Ponissi?
The Melbourne Storm footy boss is highly respected and his body of work speaks for itself.
When Maguire’s staff was announced, Ponissi was the name that stood out.
“Frankie’s enormous … I guess everyone’s seen the journey that club’s (Storm) been on. He just brings a wealth of knowledge but just a calmness about how he goes about what he does,” Maguire said.
“That’s one thing I do know is that it’s the people, the team around you is the capabilities of where we’ll go. Having someone like Frankie’s nature, of being able to be at many grand finals, he knows grass roots, he knows everything.”
In past years the Blues have based themselves at Coogee, but Maguire hinted he and Ponissi have devised a plan to stay connected with the country areas.
“We’ve had a lot of great discussion about how we can reach country regions even though we’re in internal camps and he’s come up with a few different ideas, which I won’t share at the moment, about various things we’ve got planned to be able to make sure that everyone can feel we’re on the journey of what we’re about,” he said.
“When I asked him about the Origin arena, he said ‘it’s one thing I haven’t done, and I’d love to’. He just jumped on it straight away.”