NSW enter Maguire mode as Queensland get need for speed

Scott Bailey |

NSW State of Origin coach Michael Maguire knows how much the Blues jersey means to the players.
NSW State of Origin coach Michael Maguire knows how much the Blues jersey means to the players.

Michael Maguire has spent the past seven months holding a NSW State of Origin jersey.

Carrying it into meetings, presenting it as an answer to questions in press conferences, and passing it to former players to hold again.

“They all talk about what it means,” Maguire said.

“The love that they have for the jersey is pretty amazing.

“They talk about it being one of the most special things that they’ve had in their entire lives.”

Coach Michael Maguire.
Coach Michael Maguire wears a Blues jersey during a NSW training session in the Blue Mountains. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

It’s impossible to estimate how much time Maguire has spent talking to past and present NSW players about Origin since his appointment late last year.

From the man he replaced as coach in Brad Fittler, to the heroes of Steve Mortimer’s first winners in 1985, to Paul Gallen’s drought-breakers in 2014.

“He rang me a couple of months ago and I was on the golf course,” ex-winger and NSW’s latest hall-of-fame member Michael O’Connor told AAP. 

“He wanted to have a chat with me. No State of Origin coach has ever rung me up before.”

Maguire is a break from the mould in terms of recent Blues coaches.

The three who came before him were genuine NSW State of Origin legends, all-time greats in Ricky Stuart, Laurie Daley and Brad Fittler.

Between them, they played 68 Origins for the Blues and were a core part of NSW’s four series wins in the early 1990s.

Maguire has more coaching experience than any of the trio compared to when they took over the Blues, but has never donned the jersey.

It’s part of the reason why he is so eager to learn.

“He wants to know what it was that was so special about the jersey,” O’Connor continued.

“What was it that gave you the advantage that night? Why do you reckon you did win? 

“And I told him it was because of character, the players and the trust that we had as a team, the work that we’d done, certainly defensively.”

Blues players honed their skills at a Blue Mountains training camp.
Blues players honed their skills at a Blue Mountains training camp ahead of the Origin opener. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

O’Connor is far from alone in those conversations.

“He (Maguire) wants to get the understanding of what it means,” fellow hall-of-fame inductee Steve Roach recounted.

“Where is your why? Why you are playing? What impact do you want to have? It’s pretty deep.

“He brings the jumper, passes it to you and says ‘What does that jumper mean to you?'”

Come Wednesday night, Maguire will have his first real chance to make a mark on that Blue jersey.

It is already there in the side he has picked and the decision to take the team out of Sydney to the Blue Mountains for preparations.

Maguire’s side is peak Maguire. A side built on hard work, big minutes and passion.

Jake Trbojevic embodies that as captain, while Dylan Edwards’ initial selection at fullback before injury struck was sealed by work ethic and an effort to stop a 40-20.

Cameron McInnes is another tough-as-guts player, while Maguire has gone with an old-school four-forward bench.

In his first press conference as coach last Monday, Maguire uttered the word “passion” nine times, again while holding up the Blues jersey.

“It represents what this is all about,” Maguire said. 

“I grew up watching as a young kid watching and dreaming. Now, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”

While the NSW team is all Maguire, Queensland’s has all the hallmarks of coach Billy Slater.

Michael Maguire (left) and Maroons coach Billy Slater.
Blues coach Michael Maguire (left) and the Maroons’ Billy Slater have contrasting styles. (Con Chronis/AAP PHOTOS)

Wednesday night’s series opener is a clear battle of contrasting styles.

Slater has embraced the NRL’s move towards speed as the most important facet, with the Maroons’ back five clearly out-pacing the Blues’.

Where Maguire overlooked Josh Addo-Carr, Queensland will have the two fastest players on the field in Reece Walsh and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, according to NRL data from last year.

Slater has also followed the trend of smaller benches bringing success in Origin.

There are only two forwards on the Maroons’ interchange, with Harry Grant to come on at hooker and Selwyn Cobbo providing crucial backline coverage in case of injury.

Slater has coached two series for the Maroons for two wins. He knows what success looks like in rugby league’s toughest arena.

Maguire is hoping his countless hours learning about the blue jersey teach him similar.