Paul Kent: Lack of loyalty that has helped erode NSW Blues players’ State of Origin passion

Just last week under the headline “Joey opens up on ‘bulls***’ Origin outburst there was Joey Johns, rugby league Immortal, opening up on his bulls*** Origin outburst, and with some heat.
The story was of the personal kind and the deeper it got the more personal it got.
Johns was cut to the bone following NSW’s loss to Queensland. It was a game many believed the Blues should have won, Johns included, yet such was the Queensland performance they managed to secure one of those chiselled in stone victories that will. “For people to say it, it is insulting to anyone who has bled and got injured and done everything they can for the NSW jersey when they’re playing,” he said on his podcast, later adding, “It comes from people outside who have no idea, have never been on the battlefield of Origin, would never survive out there. “But they push this narrative which is total BS. It drives me mad.” Rugby league being what it was, more than a few people, in their kindness, of course, forwarded the article to me believing it was connected to my comments that these Queensland players believe in their jersey more than NSW, which led to their added performance in all the effort areas and, eventually, the result.
Well, to rain on their dreary parade, I have no problem with Johns’s comments.
I agree with him.
Indeed, it is possible we are both right.
Johns was one of NSW’s great warriors, a man who did bleed and get injured and did everything he could for the jersey when he was playing.
And he can name dozens of others who all fit the bill, as well, like Paul Harragon. Tommy Raudonikis would pluck out an opponent’s eye if it was the difference between winning and losing. Laurie Daley was one of those great players with an innate sense for when his team needed something, and usually provided it, no matter the cost to himself. Whether all 17 players in this latest instalment of the NSW team fit that bill, though, is a legitimate question.
Just because Johns felt that way when he played, though, doesn’t mean they all still feel that way.
They might just think they do.
There have been various stages throughout the 43 years of Origin where NSW players have shown Origin means every bit the same to them as it did to Queensland, and in just about every case it was when the Blues have shown as much grit as their rivals.
That quality hasn’t been there for some years now.
It did none of the defenders any good, for instance, that on the same weekend their rearguard defence was mounted to defend the prestige of playing for the Blues, out came Victor Radley, in the extended squad for Game II in Perth, announcing he was preparing to forego playing for NSW ever again to play for … England. Then we saw and heard Latrell Mitchell on Sunday night. Mitchell returned from injury just a few weeks ago and one of his first points of business was to rule himself out of Origin selection.
He wanted to concentrate on South Sydney, he said, but then gave us an indication of where his head was at Sunday evening when he took on Canterbury and made a point of going after Matt Burton several times throughout the game in that Big Dog kind of way.
Mitchell had a point to prove against Burton, who filled his Origin jersey for the final two games.
“I told you that three jersey was mine,” Mitchell said after the game, perhaps overlooking the small detail that it was Mitchell himself that ensured it was not, making himself unavailable.
“I just wanted to go out tonight to prove I’m here to play footy and enjoy that and keep ticking boxes for the South Sydney Rabbitohs,” he said.
The Rabbitohs, not the Blues, who he wanted to make a point to.
A few years back Mitchell was dropped from NSW after a bad game, and didn’t get so much as a call to explain why. The snub hurt him, and those around him said it caused him to question things. Cody Walker got brushed as well, similarly snubbed and overlooked for others.
Loyalty seems to be the key to it all.
Luke Keary was sacked after a game, gone and forgotten.
Jake Trbojevic missed a call from coach Brad Fittler before Game I and called back a dozen times and Fittler missed each one.
Like Trbojevic, Josh Addo-Carr played phone tag with Fittler, as well, the coach frustratingly missing his return calls before Game I. Addo-Carr found out he missed the team from someone else. The Broncos felt let down by Kotoni Staggs’ Origin treatment after Game I. Jack Wighton was left out of Game III after being the best on a bad day in Game I and then missing Game II with Covid, no fault of his own.
In each, their treatment by the Blues hierarchy seems to have soured things.
They speak of loyalty and the passion for the jersey but it is not returned, and everybody sees it.

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