NSW coach Laurie Daley admits his selection of a rookie halves pairing for the State of Origin opener against Queensland is a gamble.
NSW coach Laurie Daley is offering long-suffering Blues fans no promises after rolling the dice with the selection of rookie halves and a pack of ageing and underdone forwards for the State of Origin series opener.
Daley will head to Brisbane more in hope than expectation after admitting that throwing Canterbury duo Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson into the Origin cauldron against Queensland at Suncorp Stadium was a gamble.
“It’s just a surreal feeling at the moment, you dream about this as a kid,” Hodkinson said after revealing he almost gave the game away two years ago amid a depressing run with injuries.
Daley dumped his 2013 halves, Sydney Roosters duo James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce, who paid the price for Pearce’s big Saturday night out two weeks ago that ended up with his arrest in Kings Cross for failing to leave a licensed premises.
The second-year NSW coach drew a line in the sand, determined to stamp out a boozy culture that has undermined the Blues during their sorry run of eight straight series defeats.
“It’s always a tough decision to change halves but in the best interest of the team I thought it was necessary,” Daley said.
“It’s always a calculated gamble. I don’t think you ever throw someone in without thinking through the whole puzzle.
“For us, while we all want short-term success, I think a part of my job is to create a team that is not only going to sustain pressure for the short term but to build success for the long term.
“That may take time, but it is what we need to do.”
While he backed Reynolds and Hodkinson to do the job, Daley refused to guarantee the Bulldogs pair the playmaking hot seats for the full series, saying he was only focusing on game one.
“Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds are playing extremely well. They are playing in a team that is leading the competition,” Daley said.
“They are in career-best form. I thought it was important that we had that combination there.
“The Roosters haven’t been travelling that well; they have had their issues – their halves not playing as well as they would like to.
“It is exciting for Trent and Josh. I know they will grab it and go with it – they will feel comfortable by game time.”
Daley also declined to boldly tip the Blues to end the Maroons’ near decade-long domination of the interstate series.
“You can never promise victories, but all I know is that you can prepare a football team as best as you possibly can,” he said.
“If we’re prepared to work hard and make some sacrifices and knuckle down and prepare really well, we’ll give ourselves a chance, an opportunity.
“But if we don’t, we’ll walk away with the same result.”
Roosters flyer Daniel Tupou will also make his NSW debut on the wing, but props Aaron Woods and James Tamou are the only two members of the starting pack under the age of 30.
Daley, though, had no concerns that skipper Paul Gallen, vice-captain Robbie Farah and fellow veteran forward Luke Lewis had spent more time in the stands this year than playing.
With incumbent back-rowers Greg Bird (suspended) and Boyd Cordner (ankle) unavailable, Daley also recalled Beau Scott, who has been playing in pain since the City-Country fixture.
“When they say to me they can get through, I trust them knowing their body more than anyone else,” Daley said.
“We need that experience and that composure up there and those guys bring that.”