New South Wales have lost nine of the past 10 State of Origin campaigns.
And they’re set for a bad start to the 2016 edition after Laurie Daley’s new-look — and no-good squad — was revealed on Monday.
The issues are glaring, from an over-reliance on props and big bodies to Dylan Walker’s selection and the fact that Daley was unable to resist picking one of his undeserving pets, hooker Robbie Farah.
In stark contrast to NSW’s eight changes, and fresh spine, Queensland have made just one non-enforced alteration from last year’s squad. They look settled and very difficult to beat.
Farah’s selection is baffling and a detrimental blow to the Blues’ hopes.
The long-serving vice-captain has battled injury throughout 2016 – missing the last NRL round with concussion – and has been down on form. Farah has finished on the winning side just once in seven games this year; the battling Tigers have managed to win three of four without him. Meanwhile, Michael Ennis is starring for the ladder-leading Sharks as the competition’s form No.9.
The punch and creativity Ennis provides, along with his combination with teammate James Maloney and his ability to get under the Maroons’ skin, would have been invaluable for the Blues.
Walker’s selection as bench utility is destined to go down in Origin infamy alongside Jamie Buhrer’s seven-minute debut in 2013.
It’s clear Daley is attempting to replicate the value Queensland gets from Michael Morgan.
But Morgan is a blue-chip five-eighth or fullback, with the ability to slot seamlessly into the backrow or dummy-half. Walker is an out-an-out centre, who has proven himself inadequate at fullback and five-eighth since joining Manly.
That’s not the only interchange atrocity, however.
The Blues’ bench contains three of the NRL’s biggest props – Andrew Fifita, James Tamou and David Klemmer.
Starting second-rowers Josh Jackson and Boyd Cordner are hard-running, industrious toilers deserving of their spots, but they offer little variety – the Blues needed a backrower with X-factor on the bench.
Bryce Cartwright – overlooked due to defensive frailties but included in the squad as a ‘development player’ – has the attacking game to unlock the most rigid defences, but the backrower unluckiest to miss out was Wade Graham.
The inspirational Shark is tough, skilful and versatile, and has more than paid his dues for an Origin debut.
Josh Dugan’s selection at centre could also hurt NSW – his defence on the edge is dubious and he will relentlessly targeted up against Greg Inglis, the greatest try-scorer in Origin history.
Daley did not get everything wrong – his decision to abandon the misguided loyalty that has seen halves Mitchell Pearce and Trent Hopkinson stymie the Blues is a good call.
Souths No.7 Adam Reynolds gets a long overdue debut and will play alongside in-form five-eighth Maloney.
Proven big-game performers, Maloney and Reynolds provide the Blues with an outstanding kicking game – an aspect that has crucified them for years – and two linchpins who will take the ball to the line.
Add to that the bold selection of Penrith fullback Matt Moylan, a genuine playmaker with breathtaking vision. Another young Panther, Josh Mansour, is an inspired choice on the wing – a top-shelf finisher whose bullocking charges will put the Blues on the front foot.
But that’s where the positives come to an abrupt end.
Incoming Queensland coach Kevin Walters has unsurprisingly retained 14 of the 17 players from last year’s Game 3 victory.
Origin rookies Justin O’Neill and Corey Oates have come into the three-quarter line for Justin Hodges (retired) and Will Chambers (injured).
Injuries tested the Maroons’ backline depth to its limit, and Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt played himself out of a call-up with a butterfingered display last Friday against the Broncos.
But none of their squad could be begrudged their spot on form; Nate Myles is an arguable exception, struggling to find his best at new club Manly, but the stalwart, who has played 29 Origins, perpetually lifts at this level.
The overwhelming class and experience of Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith, Inglis, Darius Boyd, Corey Parker and Sam Thaiday – who boast a collective 140 appearances for the Maroons – is enough to ensure favouritism on its own.
The shortcomings of Daley’s squad are destined to ensure this series follows a similar pattern to previous campaigns.