Panther power puts odds in Blues’ favour


SYDNEY: Call it intuition, call it combinations or just call it a mental edge.
Whatever it is, the numbers show that when Penrith’s six State of Origin stars run out together tomorrow night, the odds will favour New South Wales (NSW).
Of the past six times NSW have picked at least half a dozen players from the one club for a State of Origin game dating back to 1985, the Blues have won five of those games.
Queensland’s most recent era of success was also built on club combinations, with Melbourne players often dominating the spine and key positions.
For NSW, such club combinations have been rare in recent seasons.
Penrith are the first NRL team since St George Illawarra in 2011 to field six or more players in a NSW side, with the Dragons having seven Blues for Game I that year.
Like the Panthers, the Dragons of 2011 were into their third straight big year and were sitting at 11-1 in their premiership defence before entering camp.
“It definitely helped me because it was my first Origin series,” former Dragons halfback Jamie Soward said.
“Having so many Dragons guys, it took the pressure off everyone else to accept me.
“The other guys who didn’t know me had probably formed opinions.
“People would say I was soft and only kicked, and all that.
So to have guys in the team who trusted me forced other guys to trust me.
” Soward’s 2011 team did not lift the Origin shield, with coach Ricky Stuart playing five Dragons in game two and four in game three.
But after the dominant Queensland team had torn NSW apart between 2007 and 2010, they did go some way to putting the Blues back in Origin reckoning with a win in Sydney forcing a decider.
“I just remember going in there with a team that had finished minor premiers twice, won a comp,” Soward said.
“And we had eight guys there who knew how to win in those big games.
“Gaz (Mark Gasnier) and Beau (Scott) had been there before, but the familiarity around how I played as a playmaker definitely helped me.
“Penrith will have that with the way they’ve played the last couple of years.
“They have the best halfback in the world (in Nathan Cleary), one of the world’s best five-eighths (in Jarome Luai) and the best lock in the world (with Isaah Yeo).
Defence also looms as one of NSW’s biggest advantages.
Cameron Smith said yesterday how Queensland had spent early days in their game one camp working out their defensive structures.
NSW have had it far easier in that facet, with the Panthers who regularly defend together at club level complementing 13 players backing up from last series under Brad Fittler.
It was another thing Soward did not take for granted in 2011.
“I had Beau (Scott) who was looking after me at the Dragons, so it was a plug-and-play situation with those guys,” Soward said. “We had a combination straight away defensively which is important.
And they had GI (Greg Inglis) and (Billy) Slater swinging around the back.
” Stuart’s thinking in 2011 was no doubt borne out of his own career.
He spent the majority of his Origin days playing alongside Laurie Daley in the halves, with fellow Raiders Brad Clyde and Glenn Lazarus in the middle.
It was a time when NSW enjoyed their most success in Origin, thriving off the Canberra club combination and stability around the selections.