STATE OF ORIGIN
Laurie Daley, still proudly the frontrunner for the nicest man in league honour, took the one-two punch in his stride.
The first question, from a Queensland-based scribe, asked just how NSW can possibly contain Maroons marshal Cameron Smith? The next, predictably from a reporter south of the Tweed, retorted with just how much does Melbourne’s marquee man pull the wool over the eyes of the referees?
Daley is perhaps more versed in Origin than anyone else to have worn sky blue or coach NSW. He knows the fun and games are to the fore in the ‘‘draining’’ Origin build-up, which is why he never batted an eyelid in Tuesday’s briefing with the media.
Smith manipulating referees, prospects of another Origin brawl, Gallen’s overblown ‘‘two heads’’ throwaway line - he just smiled and answered each conspiracy theory politely. And proved he’s still learning about everything that is great about Origin.
‘‘Players have played their game before it’s actually on,’’ Daley said of NSW’s more measured build-up in 2014. ‘‘I think there’s a real awareness now about a gradual build-up and a real focus closer to the game rather than seven days before the game. You notice the energy sap from players.
‘‘That’s something I learnt last year and I saw the energy sap from the players. I should have known better as a player.’’
He also knows how good former Canberra teammate Steve Walters was as a player. So when he addressed the aforementioned question of just how to contain Smith, Daley genuinely seemed resigned to the fact NSW could never completely suffocate Queensland’s heartbeat.
‘‘He’s probably the greatest hooker of all time,’’ Daley said of Smith, who will equal Wally Lewis’ 31 Origin appearances at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night. ‘‘I thought I played with the greatest hooker in Steve Walters, but I think he may have taken over that mantle.
‘‘His decision making under pressure is first class and that’s one of the reasons why Queensland have had that success ... his ability in big moments to make the right play. We’ll try to limit the influence he will have on the game, but you know at some point the decisions he makes [will have an impact] so we have to make good decisions in defence.’’
Daley will desperately need his money men to make good decisions in attack too, with Bulldogs playmakers Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson thrown to the lions in the Suncorp Stadium furnace.
They’ve innocently hogged headlines for the best part of a week and even Daley said he could not be entirely certain how the in-form pair will handle the Queensland onslaught.
‘‘I don’t know [if they’ll be overwhelmed], but all the indications are they’ll be OK,’’ Daley said. ‘‘It will be a little bit quicker and they’re aware of that, but all the indications are they’re ready to go and they’ll go out there and play like they have for the Bulldogs all year.
‘‘They’ll play with purpose and play with confidence and bring a real composure to the team [on Wednesday] night.’’
Perhaps this series has as much meaning for the Origin career of Daley than it does for the young halves he’s thrust into the spotlight. He’s trying to help NSW win their first live match at Suncorp Stadium in nine years.
Having led most to believe he was close to quitting after last year’s heartbreaker, should he walk away if Queensland make it nine straight he’ll be the fourth NSW coach seen off by opposite Mal Meninga.
Is he more equipped to end Queensland’s reign at the second time of trying?
‘‘You learn a lot from your first year in charge,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s no magic formula and you’ve just got to do what you think is right.
‘‘Continually for us we need to keep building and working and willing to be a part of this team in the future. I’m happy with where we’re at and with everyone’s contribution so far.’’