Brad Walter July 04, 2012
"It's all going to come down to one tackle, one run, one second, one minute" ... Ricky Stuart. Photo: Steve Christo
''The door just needs one more kick before it is shut. It ain't far away.''
THAT is as close as NSW coach Ricky Stuart will come to predicting an end to Queensland's six-year Origin domination at Suncorp Stadium tonight.
Stuart believes the Blues have narrowed the gap and is confident he has the players to beat the Maroons on their own turf but is also aware that everything they have done so far will count for little unless NSW win.
In a 30-minute interview with the Herald on the eve of the biggest game in Origin history, Stuart was at pains to point out the Blues had won nothing yet.
''It is a fickle business,'' Stuart said. ''It is all going to come down to one tackle, one run, one second, one minute … but that is how it is.''
Since being appointed as NSW's first full-time coach on November 17, 2010, Stuart has spent thousands of hours planning for this moment. While State of Origin is only three games per year, each one is like a grand final and Stuart has been planning for this year's series since the end of the last one.
''It's probably been since day one last year or even before that just to get to this opportunity,'' he said. ''I had a couple of weeks off and then jumped into the review. It is not stressful once Origin is over but it comes around pretty quickly. I am watching every game and I try to get to a couple of live games every weekend because I want to make sure I give every player an opportunity for selection. You are not working seven, eight or 10-hour days as normal coaches but you are always thinking … there is a lot of work behind the scenes in talking to different people.''
The Blues were in the same position last year but the players didn't have the self-belief they now do and deep down Stuart probably didn't either.
Todd Carney, Brett Stewart and Josh Morris were names he had pencilled in for last year's series but they were either unfit or out of form, while hooker Robbie Farah has had to prove he deserved selection.
All four have been key figures this year, while the emergence of giant props James Tamou and Tim Grant has enabled Paul Gallen to revert to lock and Tony Williams gives the Blues impact from the bench they did not have last year.
''It has been the perfect preparation, touch wood,'' Stuart said as he tapped on the coffee table in front of him at the team's Brisbane hotel and then on his head.
''I am lucky to be involved in this. I am privileged to be able to work with such a good mob of blokes, who are talented as well.
''That is why we are in this position, although if we don't get the result that we want people will look back and say we haven't achieved anything. But the players have done a real good job to promote the game - and so have Queensland. Outside of World Cups and the NFL Super Bowl there isn't anything much bigger.''
Before Stuart's second stint in charge of the Blues, NSW coaches and players of the previous five years had always appeared to be carrying an enormous burden. Stuart said he wanted to change that and the 45-year-old former premiership-winning halfback and coach felt he had done so.
''There are players now who these guys go back and talk to at their clubs that are busting their gut to get in here,'' Stuart said. ''That to me is a win. Personally, I have had a huge amount of enjoyment out of it but I know it would be so much more if we could win. That is the one thing I am not getting ahead of myself with.
''We have accomplished bringing the game back to the state, the fans coming back to us, the relationship with our media and just the promotion of the game itself - in those areas I don't think we could have done much more. But for our own sakes we haven't done anything yet.''
Given how far the team has come, the amount of work Stuart has put in and speculation that a club job next year may mean this is his last game in charge of NSW, how would he feel if the Blues lost a seventh successive series? ''I can't answer that. I don't think about that. It hasn't happened yet.''