Laurie Daley is under pressure to ditch his stick-and-pick policy after the NSW coach’s contentious selection of Dylan Walker backfired spectacularly in State of Origin I.
Picked as a potential gamebreaker, Walker endured a nightmare Origin debut after being thrust into the fray with nine minutes remaining and the match on the line.
Forced to make 11 tackles while seemingly filling a forward’s role, the backline utility then fumbled possession trying to milk a penalty after his first touch.
Game, last set for NSW and match to the Maroons as Daley goes back to the drawing board in a bid to keep the series alive with victory in Origin II in Brisbane on June 22.
In his fourth year as Blues coach, Daley has only ever axed one starter mid-series, winger Nathan Merritt after his game two howler on debut in 2013.
He also relegated reserve forward Andrew Fifita after last year’s series opener, but that was to make way for the inevitable return to the squad of suspended captain Paul Gallen.
A foot injury to Gallen in 2013 cost Josh Reynolds a place on the bench as Daley opted for a forward instead in the form of Boyd Cordner as reinforcement.
Now, though, Daley’s famous loyalty will be put to the test when he weighs up whether or not to persist with Walker.
His tactics too have come under heavy criticism, with the Blues showing little imagination in their constant attempts to go around the Maroons defence on the back of a pack that more than held its own.
Blues legend Andrew Johns launched a scathing assessment of NSW’s lacklustre attack, after first-time halves and rookie fullback Matt Moylan only managed to create one try in 80 minutes.
But Daley indicated he was likely to stay loyal to his playmakers as the Blues desperately strive to avoid a 10th series defeat in 11 years.
“We had a new six, seven and one. Most coaches will tell you when you are putting a spine together that takes time,” he said.
“I thought they combined really well. (I was) happy with how they went. They will be better in game two for it.”
Daley described his side’s effort as “sensational”.
“There were really encouraging signs for us because we are a young team. We have a lot of new blokes,” he said.
“We always knew that they were going to get better as the series rolled on.
“So we are going to get it right in Queensland.”