Coaches these days, particularly around Origin, are looking for any and every opportunity to get an edge on their opposition.
With Brad Fittler it’s been breathing exercises to help when the body is under stress, walking barefoot in the sand and grass to reconnect with the earth.
Then this year Kevin Walters has employed a life coach to shift Queensland to a more insular focus by talking only about themselves and not mentioning New South Wales.
This all might sound a little out of the ordinary but the idea behind it is to help get one over the opposition.
And these different methods can add an element of fun to it all. It’s not something the players are used to at club level. And in this arena you’ve got to stimulate them as they come into camp by providing that kind of variety, or surprises if you like.
It will refresh the players a little around how they think, and act. The peculiarities of coaches these days is in finding that one per cent, that little edge, that can help the team be successful.
It’s the old story that if the players buy into it, see value in it, even just having some fun with it, that all adds to the unity of a team – it brings teams together when you do something differently.
In Queensland’s case, you look at the players when they’re talking about it and they’re smiling; they’re having a good time with it.
I know from the outside the fact the Queenslanders are told not to mention NSW could appear a little disrespectful.
In my humble opinion it is in a way, as we were brought up to never think like that. But in another way, it is respecting NSW highly as the Maroons think that blotting them out will help Queensland focus on its own preparation much better.
If that is a tactic to get themselves right before anything else, then it may well work.
I go back to thinking it’s quite a fun thing really. There’s bound to be fines for players for accidentally dropping the NSW name in a conversation, or training session. The players are probably having a real giggle about it all as an in-house joke.
It just shows me that both coaches have bought into Origin so deeply that they now have these peculiarities in their preparation. That’s probably because Freddy and Kevvie have named two pretty evenly matched teams.
I’m really looking forward to the game which brings the best fullback in the world at the moment in James Tedesco, facing the best emerging fullback in the world in Kalyn Ponga.
The halves are intriguing with Daly Cherry-Evans, now captain of the Queensland side, continuing his formidable combination with Cameron Munster. They were on fire in Game III last year and then played in two Tests for the Kangaroos together.
Opposing them is the steady hand of Nathan Cleary and probably the best five-eighth in the NRL at present, Cody Walker. But they haven’t played together before.
I feel that’s a good mix because Nathan has the ability to take the team around the park, keep everyone playing to the plan. And that will help Cody considerably as that’s a similar playing style to Adam Reynolds at South Sydney, allowing Cody to run the footy.
DCE is similar to Nathan in that he understands the structure of his team and can guide them all, while Cameron Munster can unveil his running game once again. How good will those match-ups in the halves be?
Probably the best player in the competition at the moment is Damien Cook. Playing at No.9 he’s added to his running game, his passing game in 2019, and he actually kicks more often now.
Defensively he plays big minutes and doesn’t miss many tackles. And he’s up against a halfback filling in at No.9 in Ben Hunt, but most of the good judges think he’s a better No.9 than he is a No.7.
Ben can run, he can kick, he can pass and he can do it all very effectively out of dummy half. Defensively he’s very solid as well in the middle.
So all the doom and gloom around Origin starting fade now with the quick exits of big-occasion players like Greg Inglis, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk, Darius Boyd and Cameron Smith, is just not true.
The old adage in our sport is when one retires, another one comes in. Origin is a never-ending cycle of great players coming in and impressing.
For both Queensland and NSW they now have teams that are going to be around for a while – players coming into their prime or just start their rise at the elite representative level. So this is the emergence of two new, fresh, high-quality teams.