New South Wales Blues: All-Time Greatest Origin XIII
Last week, I had a crack at naming Queensland’s all-time greatest State of Origin XIII. This week, I’ve picked my best New South Wales Blues XIII, considering all 267 players who have represented New South Wales since the first Origin game was played in 1980.
While it’s been slim pickings for New South Wales in the Origin arena over the past decade in terms of wins, there have certainly been better times and some great players who have worn the jersey over the years.
The Blues won their first Origin series in 1985, with halfback and captain Steve Mortimer helping to instil plenty of passion south of the border, along with stars like Brett Kenny, Steve Roach, Noel Cleal, Benny Elias, Wayne Pearce and Eric Grothe.
Since then, New South Wales have had two dominant State of Origin periods. The first was from 1992-97, when they won five of the six series played. The only one they lost was the famous 1995 series when they were upset by an underdog Queensland team during the Super League war (when many elite players from both sides were absent). 2003-2005 was another golden period for New South Wales, winning three series wins in a row.
Players who featured heavily in those eras make up the bulk of the team I’ve chosen. But there are still many legends who have missed out and the selections are certainly worth debating. I’ve picked players in positions where they played at least a reasonable chunk of their Origin careers, rather than putting players into positions they rarely played at Origin level. The stats listed for each player are up to and including Game 2, 2017.
Fullback: Tim Brasher
21 matches (1992-2000), 3 tries
Tim Brasher wore the New South Wales number 1 jersey in five winning State of Origin series, which just gets him my vote over worthy contenders Garry Jack and Anthony Minichiello. Brasher was as safe as a bank at the back, and went about his business with a minimum of fuss. He made his debut for the Blues as a winger in Game 3 of 1992. The following year, Brasher was picked at fullback for the first game and he went on to make the fullback spot his own for the next six years in what was a largely dominant period in New South Wales State of Origin history.
Winger: Andrew Ettingshausen
27 matches (1987-94, 1996, 1998), 7 tries
‘ET’ was an extremely versatile player for New South Wales, playing equally well at centre, winger and fullback during his long Origin career. I’ve taken advantage of that versatility to slot him on the wing in this all-time greatest team. Blessed with blinding pace, Ettingshausen was a constant attacking threat. But it’s often overlooked that he was also very solid defensively. Like Brasher, he was a part of five New South Wales series victories. If it wasn’t for him being ineligible for Origin selection in 1995 and ’97 due to the Super League war, it’s likely Ettingshausen would be the most capped player in Blues’ Origin history (a mantle held by Brad Fittler).
Centre: Brad Fittler
31 matches (1990-2004), 8 tries, 2 field goals
‘Freddy’ is another player like Ettingshausen who played three positions during his Origin career – centre, five-eighth and lock. Again, I’ve taken advantage of that versatility to slot him in at centre in this team. That’s where he began his career for Penrith and its where he played in the 1992, 1993 and 1994 New South Wales teams that won three series in a row. Fittler still holds the record for the youngest player to debut for the Blues, coming off the bench at 18 years of age in Game 2 in 1990, the match where New South Wales clinched that series. He is also his State’s most capped Origin player with 31 appearances, including 14 as captain. The Brad Fittler Medal awarded to the modern-day New South Wales Player of the Series is named in his honour.
Centre: Michael O’Connor
19 matches (1985-91), 11 tries, 42 goals, 1 field goal
Although he retired from Origin football more than 25 years ago, it was only this year that Michael O’Connor was joined by Jarryd Hayne at the top of the Blues’ all-time list of Origin try-scorers. A great goal-kicker, O’Connor is still also New South Wales’ all-time leading point scorer. His remarkable goal-kicking ability under pressure was never better demonstrated than when he slotted a last-minute conversion from the sideline in pouring rain to give New South Wales a 14-12 victory over the Maroons in Game 2 of the 1991 series. O’Connor also scored all 18 of New South Wales’ points in his Origin debut in Game 1 in 1985, with the Blues winning that match and going on to win their first ever Origin series.
Winger: Jarryd Hayne
22 matches (2007-17), 11 tries
Despite fullback being his preferred position, Jarryd Hayne has played most of his Origin career on the wing. The equal leading try-scorer in Blues Origin history, he seems destined to have the record all to himself soon. He scored a spectacular try on debut on the wing for New South Wales in Game 1 of the 2007 series. Right on half-time, he flirted with the sideline near halfway before grubber kicking ahead and regathering the ball at top pace to score. He is a three-time winner of the Brad Fittler medal, including in the 2014 series when the Blues broke Queensland’s eight-year winning streak.
Five-eighth: Laurie Daley
23 matches (1989-94, 1996, 1998-99), 6 tries
Laurie Daley captained New South Wales to three consecutive series wins from 1992-94, playing at five-eighth. At the time, the Canberra Raiders were a dominant force in the ARL premiership. He formed a lethal scrumbase combination at club and Origin level with Ricky Stuart and Bradley Clyde. At the peak of his career in 1995, Daley became ineligible for Origin selection due to the Super League war. Brad Fittler stayed loyal to the ARL and was rewarded with the Blues captaincy in Daley’s absence, a role he retained in 1996. Daley again missed 1997 due to Super League, but returned to play two more years of Origin, including captaining New South Wales once again in the 1998 series.
Halfback: Andrew Johns
23 matches (1995-2005,) 4 tries, 37 goals, 4 field goals
Andrew Johns didn’t have the ideal start to his Origin career, debuting in the 1995 series during the Super League war when an underdog Queensland team beat New South Wales. He played at hooker in the next two series that were won by the Blues, with Geoff Toovey being the halfback. While Johns will have fond memories of winning those two series, he’ll also have a vivid memory of being decked by Queensland hooker Jamie Goddard during a famous Origin brawl that was inspired by New South Wales coach Tom Raudonikis’ ‘cattledog’ call.
Johns captained New South Wales to their series win in 2003, but undoubtedly his best performance in the Origin arena was his man-of-the match effort at Lang Park in Game 2 of 2005. With the Blues down 1-0 in the series and Johns having missed the first match due to injury, he returned and put on a masterclass at Suncorp Stadium to help New South Wales level the series. They went on to win the third match with Johns again playing a dominant role in what was his final Origin appearance.
Prop: Glenn Lazarus
19 matches (1989-99), 2 tries
Glenn Lazarus was the dominant prop at club and representative level for most of the 1990s. And for some interesting Origin trivia, he was the first player to score a rugby league try at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, when the ARL took Game 2 of the 1994 series there. That try was one of only two that Lazarus scored in his Origin career, but it helped New South Wales to level that series at 1-all. The Blues went on to win the deciding match at Lang Park to claim their third series victory in a row. Lazarus’ consistent ability to make big metres in the middle of the ruck was ideally suited to the tough Origin arena.
Hooker: Danny Buderus
21 matches (2002-08), 2 tries
Danny Buderus narrowly gets the nod at hooker in my team over another worthy contender, Benny Elias. Buderus captained New South Wales 15 times in State of Origin, including in their 2004 and 2005 series victories. His creative work out of dummy half and his slick combination with Andrew Johns was instrumental in the Blues success in the early part of his Origin career. He holds the record for the most consecutive Origin games for New South Wales, not missing a match from the time he made his debut in Game 1 of the 2002 series until his final appearance in Game 3 of 2008.
Prop: Paul Harragon
20 matches (1992-98), 2 tries
‘The Chief’ quickly established his credibility in the Origin arena, winning his first three series (1992-94). He also showed he wouldn’t take a backward step against more experienced opponents when he went toe-to-toe with Queensland prop Martin Bella in the deciding third game of the 1993 series at Lang Park. He more than held his own in that stoush. A highlight of his career was a man-of-the-match performance in Game 2 of the 1994 series at the MCG, where his powerful charges paved the way for a vital NSW victory. He held the record for the most consecutive State of Origin appearances for New South Wales until it was broken in 2008 by fellow Novocastrian Danny Buderus.
Second Row: Nathan Hindmarsh
17 matches (2001-10), 1 try
He mightn’t have won a premiership during his career, but Nathan Hindmarsh was a part of three State of Origin series victories for New South Wales. That tips the scales in his favour in my opinion over other worthy backrow contenders for this all-time greatest line-up, such as Steve Menzies (who played a lot of his Origin career off the bench) and 1980s stalwart Noel ‘Crusher’ Cleal. Hindmarsh’s high work rate and ability to play 80 minutes made him a valuable forward who was perfectly adapted to the intensity of Origin football.
Second Row: Paul Sironen
14 matches (1989-94)
Paul Sironen was a damaging ball-runner whose sheer size made him an imposing threat in State of Origin. He could also hit hard in defence. One big hit he made on Queensland second-rower Trevor Gillmeister in the early 1990s still features prominently in State of Origin highlight compilations today. ‘Big Sirro’ enjoyed plenty of success in the Blues jersey, being an important part of their dominant forward pack in the hat-trick of series wins between 1992 and 1994.
Lock: Bradley Clyde
12 matches (1989-94), 2 tries
Brad Clyde had a relatively short Origin career compared to another lock contender for this team, Paul Gallen, but there is no doubting the impact or success he had. He made his debut for the Blues at just 19 years of age in 1990, and was a part of his first series victory just a year later. He went on to win further series in the 1992 and 1994 New South Wales teams. Clyde was the complete player, being a great ball-runner as well as having a phenomenal work rate. Five years after he played what ended up being his last Origin match, Clyde was recalled by Blues coach Wayne Pearce for Game 1 of the 1999 series. But in another infamous Origin incident, he was thrown off a horse during a non-alcoholic team-bonding session and dislocated his shoulder. That injury put him out of the series and he retired from the NRL at the end of that season.
So that’s my opinion for New South Wales’ all-time greatest Origin XIII. What are your thoughts?