NSW Blues coach Laurie Daley speaks to the media.
NSW Blues coach Laurie Daley speaks to the media. REGI VARGHESE

The Blues stars on the chopping block for 2018

THE winds of change are blowing hard through the NSWRL and inevitably collateral damage will be part of the fallout.

That looks increasingly likely to start with a coaching change, with Laurie Daley out of contract and feeling the heat of the post-mortem.

It would now come as a huge surprise if he didn't fall victim to the old adage - fairly or not - that a fish rots from the head following reports an Andrew Fifita blow-up put a stop to a tactical switch - and the more explosive story that Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson spent a day off away from NSW camp at a drinking session.

Even more certainly heads will roll from within the player group.

Perceptions of selfishness won't go away unless there's a cleanse and there's some obvious names who will have to make way if a policy of character over talent is brought in.

That's exactly what Matthew Johns, a man whose opinion is valued highly and whose name has been thrown up to take over as coach, says must happen for the Blues to rediscover long lost success.

 

NSW State of Origin NRL player Andrew Fifita takes part in a training session in Sydney, Thursday, June 15, 2017. The second match of the three game State of Origin series will by held in Sydney on June 21. (AAP Image/Paul Miller) NO ARCHIVING
Andrew Fifita takes part in a NSW training session in Sydney. PAUL MILLER

Asked about the mooted Fifita-Klemmer tactical switch that was reversed late in the preparation for game three, Johns described it as a good move that should have stuck.

"If Fifita doesn't want to swallow it, you say 'see you later'. It's stunning and it's symbolic of what's wrong with NSW," Johns said on Fox Sports' NRL 360 on Monday night.

Speaking more broadly about what it takes to succeed at Origin level, he borrowed a metaphor from the Blues' most successful coach, Phil Gould.

"Gus used to say, 'I'll tell you about Origin football, it's about putting your hand over a naked flame and the opposition's doing the same thing, and the one who takes their hand off loses'.

"And I said to Chief (Paul Harragon), 'what would you do?'. And he said, 'rather than let the boys down I'd chop my right hand off'.

"Queensland historically have gone for that sort of player ... we're obsessed with body types and (the Maroons) just look between the ears and under the shirt."

A seismic philosophy shift at the selection table whereby players were picked on their heart and head first and their physical gifts second would have a knock-on effect to the next generation, shaking up the pecking order of players viewed as the next cabs off the rank.

Taking up the hypothetical, here is a list of players likely to suffer from a cultural cleanse, and those who would move up the pecking order.

 

New South Wales State of Origin players Mitchell Pearce (left) and Josh Dugan talk following the team announcement in Sydney on Monday, July 3, 2017. NSW will play Queensland in the third and final game of the series in Brisbane on July 12. (AAP Image/Paul Miller) NO ARCHIVING
Blues players Mitchell Pearce (left) and Josh Dugan. PAUL MILLER

ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK...

Josh Dugan: Has a long rap sheet and his decision to drink on NSW's day off could be the last straw.

Blake Ferguson: (See Josh Dugan)

Andrew Fifita: A combustible character who has had more than his fair share of battles with authority. His 'me first' attitude that guided Daley's game three selection is just the latest example.

Jarryd Hayne: Outrageously talented but not known for his leadership qualities or example-setting behaviours.

Mitchell Pearce: Has shown enough signs of reformed character in the last 12 months to get the benefit of the doubt but has previously missed Origin campaigns due to selfish indiscretions.

NEXT GEN STARS ON THE EDGE ...

Joey Leilua: Has previously upset NSW officials for refusing to come into camp as a shadow player. Has a history of off-field incidents and still drags his bottom lip on the field when things go against him.

James Roberts: Has been sacked by two clubs and has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons at the Broncos. Would be viewed in the same high-risk category as Dugan and Ferguson.

 

Jarrod Croker of the Raiders (right) is tackled by Akuila Uate of the Sea Eagles during the Round 8 NRL match between the Canberra Raiders and the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles at GIO Stadium in Canberra, Friday, April 21, 2017. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Jarrod Croker of the Raiders is tackled by Akuila Uate of the Sea Eagles. LUKAS COCH

CLEANSKINS UP THE PECKING ORDER...

Jarrod Croker: An outstanding leader for the Raiders, he is the type of player his teammates go the extra mile for. The obvious player to come in for Hayne on a character-first basis.

Tom Trbojevic: The next cab off the rank for NSW on talent alone but he's also squeaky clean and, like his older brother, is a player the Blues could build around for the next decade.

Trent Merrin: Phil Gould declared last year that he should be in the NSW side as captain, due to his outstanding character and leadership qualities.

Blake Austin: A player who has been in the selection discussion in the past, coaches a junior footy team and pulls over his car to give fans a lift to the ground. No more needs to be said.

Dale Finucane: Was brought into NSW camp as a shadow player for game three, is tough as teak and has a strong personality and character. A typical product of the Storm system.

Jordan McLean: A Craig Bellamy player through and through, you get no nonsense from McLean and he follows instructions to a tee.