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Blues selector also under pressure

The only man under as much pressure to help deliver NSW a drought-breaking State of Origin series victory as coach Laurie Daley and embattled playmaker Mitchell Pearce is chief selector Bob Fulton.
Blues selector also under pressure
by AAP

By Darren Walton

SYDNEY, May 16 AAP - The only man under as much pressure to help deliver NSW a drought-breaking State of Origin series victory as coach Laurie Daley and embattled playmaker Mitchell Pearce is chief selector Bob Fulton.

As the Blues yet again strive to overcome a horror build-up laced with injuries, suspensions and alcohol-fuelled off-field dramas, Fulton remains the one constant in NSW's sorry run of eight straight series defeats.

The rugby league Immortal has helped pick all 24 NSW teams since Queensland's record reign began in 2006.

Not even incumbent captain Paul Gallen, the only player to feature in all eight NSW series losses, has felt the pain of defeat more often than Robert Fulton AM.

"This is the question," Blues legend Brett Kenny posed to AAP this week.

"A lot of people ask: when do the selectors get sacked? We've lost eight series in a row and we've sacked seven players and it's always the halfback."

During the Blues' most barren era, Fulton and his assortment of fellow selectors, including Daley, Ricky Stuart and long-time allies Bob McCarthy and Geoff Gerard, have employed four different coaches, five captains, six halfbacks and eight five-eighths.

Most tellingly, the Blues have churned through no less than 15 different halves combinations since 2006 - all while Queensland have had the luxury of deploying only three.

No wonder the Blues have been at sixes and sevens for almost a decade trying to combat the wondrous skills of champion Queensland playmakers Darren Lockyer, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk.

Thurston alone has played a record 27 consecutive Origin games, including every single one during the past eight series triumphs.

While the Blues have chopped and changed, Thurston enjoyed six golden years at halfback alongside Lockyer before switching seamlessly to five-eighth in 2012 to accommodate Cronk's arrival post-Lockyer.

NSW have had no such stability in the playmaking ranks.

Significantly, though, since the NSW Rugby League trimmed the selection panel to just two - entrusting Fulton and the Blues coach with ultimate responsibility for the team's make-up in 2011 - a semblance of stability has prevailed.

Fulton and Stuart first pinned their faith in Jamie Soward and Pearce before Soward made way for Todd Carney as five-eighth for the entire 2012 series.

Then James Maloney replaced Carney last year when Daley succeeded Stuart as Blues coach.

And now, after three more series losses, Fulton and Daley are weighing up whether to keep picking and sticking with Pearce as the Blues' on-field director.

Despite failing to earn a single man of the match award and featuring in just three wins from 12 matches, Pearce will join all-time great Peter Sterling as the third most-capped starting halfback in NSW State of Origin history behind only Stuart and the Immortal Andrew Johns if chosen next week.

But Pearce, who publicly admitted he was probably on his final chance to deliver before last year's unsuccessful series, has thrown up a late selection headache for Fulton and Daley with his costly night out on Saturday.

Fined $20,000 and suspended from the Roosters' club game against North Queensland this weekend for being ejected from two Sydney establishments and being arrested for failing to leave a licensed premises, Pearce is now sweating on the goodwill of Fulton and Daley to retain his Origin spot.

The selectors name their Blues squad on Tuesday for the series opener in Brisbane on May 28 and Kenny said he wouldn't have Pearce.

"Out of all the available halfbacks for Origin for NSW, he's probably been playing the best, but I wouldn't pick him anyway because of what happened on the weekend," said Kenny, who played under Pearce's father Wayne's captaincy during the Blues' back-to-back series wins in 1985-86.

Pearce, though, wasn't the only NSW player in strife at the weekend, with his Roosters and Blues partner in partying Boyd Cordner fined $5000 for also being removed from a hotel on Saturday.

Their wayward ways add to a recent history of alcohol-related incidents casting a shadow over Blues' preparations that must have the Maroons laughing all the way to Suncorp Stadium.

Last year, front-rower James Tamou was suspended for game two after being charged with high-range drink driving, while winger Blake Ferguson was also pulled from the NSW squad for an indecent assault while at a nightclub with Blues teammate Josh Dugan.

"So that threw our campaign into disarray," NSW vice-captain Robbie Farah said on Fox Sports' NRL 360 on Wednesday.

"And I spoke to 'Junior' (Mitchell Pearce) yesterday and he was really disappointed and down on himself."

While the Blues selectors also grapple with the loss for game one of suspended enforcer Greg Bird, Queensland's biggest dilemma ahead of the historic 100th Origin encounter is how to maximise the playing time of Daly Cherry-Evans.

The form player in the NRL, Cherry-Evans is certain to be named on the bench behind Test halfback Cooper Cronk.

So as the Maroons once again enter the showcase series with an embarrassment of riches, the Blues are just hoping to avoid further embarrassment.


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