Billy Slater could find himself ambushed under a barrage of short, hanging kicks from NSW in Wednesday’s rugby league State of Origin opener in Brisbane.
The Blues have trained in secret as they plot ways to end Queensland’s eight-year dominance away but the Maroons can expect to face some new tactics, including some gleaned from New Zealand rugby union’s all-conquering All Blacks.
Laurie Daley and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen share a mutual friend and an invitation was arranged for the NSW coach and his assistant Matt Parish to watch preparations for a Rugby Championship Test against South Africa in Auckland last year.
It was a rare insight into the methods of the world champion All Blacks, who were on their way to becoming the first international side to remain unbeaten in a calendar year, winning 14 successive Tests.
The All Blacks have worked out the optimum kick distance should be 28 metres, with a hang time of 4.4 seconds.
Hansen’s team have perfected the tactic of contested high, hanging kicks allowing chasers to challenge the opposing fullback in leaping catches, increasing the prospect of a turnover.
The Blues’ inferior kicking game is widely acknowledged as the most crucial difference between the sides over the last eight series, with Maroons fullback Slater outstanding at covering and returning long kicks from the Blues.
Hansen and his All Blacks coaching staff have worked out the optimum kick distance from a ball in hand to pressure a fullback in their game should be 28 metres, with a hang time of 4.4 seconds.
Should the Blues use rookie halfback Trent Hodkinson, a noted kicker, to employ a similar tactic it would theoretically give Slater less room to run while ensuring a welcoming committee is on hand to apply pressure and thump him onto his back after he catches.
NSWRL chief executive Dave Trodden said the trip to Auckland last year was hugely beneficial for Daley who persuaded the board they had to splash the cash if they wanted to finally beat Mal Meninga’s side.
“Preparing a team for one-off matches is very different to preparing a team for a season,” Trodden said.
“We came to the conclusion that the All Blacks were as good as any team to look at.
Laurie and Matt came back buzzing and full of ideas about the way the All Blacks go about things.
“Laurie and Matt came back buzzing and full of ideas about the way the All Blacks go about things and preparing things.
“We had a lot of confidence about Laurie as a coach and person and it was important for us to show him that.
“We’ve increased in our investment in the team because the senior management knew we needed to.
“If you want to get better there will be a cost.”
It’s estimated the cost of the Blues preparations this season will be more than $1.5 million dollars.
Highly-regarded sports scientist Dr Duncan and a team of interns from the Australian Catholic University started their plans to assist the Blues for the series in February.
NSW players have had their urine and saliva testing in camp in addition to their sleep patterns analysed.
Trodden said hiring Duncan, who worked with EPL club Crystal Palace helping them win promotion last year, is a sign of how things have become more professional under Daley.
“We took a range of decisions to do things differently and every decision we’ve made was aimed at increasing the professionalism of the team.”