Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues captain Boyd Cordner has experienced all the highs and lows of Holden State of Origin. He captained the team for the first time in 2017 when the Blues lost the series but returned last year to lead them to a memorable victory and claim their first Shield in four years.
This year will present an entirely new set of challenges. The hunters are now the hunted. The first game is at Queensland’s spiritual home, Suncorp Stadium, which can test the resolve of even the most-toughest player. There’s also a match in a neutral venue in Perth as the game looks to expand to new frontiers leaving the Blues with only the final game at home to try and defend the Shield.
There’s also been plenty of speculation around the team Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler will choose and whether loyalty or form will decide selections. The team is only two days from being announced and there’s still plenty of debate raging on over several key positions including the halves, right centre and wing, and the utility spot on the bench.
Cordner, who went on last year to captain the Sydney Roosters to a premiership win before being appointed as the Australian Kangaroos skipper, spoke exclusively to nswrl.com.au about some of the key challenges facing the Blues in 2019
They include taming the Maroons at ‘The Cauldron’ in Game One, how two bitter NRL club rivals could drive even further success for NSW, whether a rookie half would be up to the challenge, and whether superstar Latrell Mitchell has realised his full potential.
“It’s pretty crazy how quickly it all comes around,” Cordner told nswrl.com.au.
“It feels like yesterday we were gearing up for last year’s series.
“Exciting times as always for Rugby League and NSW.”
Cordner’s Blues were incredible last year.
They got their foot in the door with a big win at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, before securing only their second series win since 2005 at ANZ Stadium.
All of that with 12 debutants across the first two games, and another in the third.
The only thing they didn’t achieve last year was a win in Queensland’s backyard. They won the series, but a majority of the team that will line up in Game I this year will not have beaten the Maroons at Suncorp Stadium.
“As a player, it’s something you look forward to and dream of playing up there in front of their home crowd,” Cordner said.
“There was a lot of debutants last year who handled Origin really well, so I suppose whoever Freddy picks will be fine with the prospect of going up there and playing in Brisbane.
“Every time you get a chance to experience a big crowd and a big atmosphere for a big game – we had one a couple of weeks ago on ANZAC Day – it helps.
“That’s why you play footy, for games like that.
“The experience you get out of it really helps, it helps you prepare and gives with a little insight of what to expect as well.
“I’m pretty sure there will be 17 boys there who will be chomping at the bit to run out that night.”
BOOK OF FEUDS A FAIRYTALE FOR FITTLER
Souths and the Roosters hate each other, and Fittler is a Roosters legend. In fact, the Rabbitohs never beat a Roosters side that had Fittler in it.
It’s an age-old rivalry which always spices up even further when both teams are on top of the table.
However, the fact both teams are thriving is also music for Fittler’s ears.
The likes of Cordner and his Roosters teammates Latrell Mitchell, Luke Keary, Daniel Tupou, Angus Crichton and Victor Radley are all in Origin contention, as is Cody Walker, Adam Reynolds, Damien Cook, Cameron Murray and Campbell Graham from the Rabbitohs.
“It’s really good (having Sydney teams on top); obviously having Souths – our rivals – up there as well from a New South Wales point of view is really good to see,” Cordner said.
“There has been a lot of players that are eligible to play for NSW putting their hand up.
“I’d hate to be a selector right now, but it’s a good headache to have.”
The Sydney Roosters five-eighth swept all before him in 2018 and he’s also ready now for Origin according to Cordner. Yet to debut for the Blues, Keary had a minor taste of it last year when he joined camp as an extended squad member.
Since then he steered the Roosters to a premiership after stepping up for an injured Cooper Cronk with an ultra-impressive performance that won him the Clive Churchill Medal. Let’s not forget he also set up two tries in the 2014 Grand Final win for South Sydney too.
Keary’s Grand Final heroics saw him earn a maiden Australian jumper for the Kangaroos at the end of last season, and he has picked up on that form again to start 2019.
On Friday night he gets his final chance to impress Fittler against the Newcastle Knights, particularly now that Cronk has withdrawn from the match.
“He’s got that temperament for a half that you want in the team,” Cordner said.
“He’s fiery and a competitor; he wants to get better with every game he plays and every year that he plays.
“We’re seeing that now and he’s getting to that stage in his career where he’s taken the reins and performing week in, week out.
“I like his attitude and the person he is, he’ll be ready to play (Origin) but it’s up to the selectors to see where they want to go.”
The Roosters centre is without doubt one of the most exciting players in the game. When he touches the ball, things happen that aren’t supposed to happen on a footy field. He is a special player.
Mitchell has come a long way since he was dropped to the Wyong Roos just over two years ago. He’s now a premiership winner, a State of Origin winner, an Australian representative and plays a crucial role in the success of all of these teams.
Cordner is impressed with how far he’s come in those two years and what he brings to any team he plays in.
“He’s just matured a lot as a footy player, he knows what he has to do for our team and he’s pretty clear on his role,” Cordner said.
“The experience he has now helps his game out a lot just knowing how to get through the 80 minutes the best way he can.
“He’s got that X-factor, just that excitement, he can do things on the footy field that most can’t and we’ve seen that throughout his whole career.
“Especially this year too with some of the touches he’s had, just that unpredictability that he brings.
“He knows what it’s like to play on the big stage and he’ll be better for last year’s series, that’s for sure.
“We need him involved as much as possible and he’s doing that really well at the moment.”