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Long-term combinations key for NSW: Stuart

Ricky Stuart reckons you can’t put a price on the State of Origin stability NSW have finally found after almost 30 years of searching.

And of all the former Blues players and coaches, Stuart should know.

Come Wednesday night, James Tedesco, Jarome Luai, Nathan Cleary and Damien Cook will play a second straight series opener together in the spine.

It may not sound like much, but the last time NSW rolled that kind of consistency out with the same spine in back-to-back openers it was 1994 with Tim Brasher, Laurie Daley, Stuart and Benny Elias.

And if the Blues’ key men play all three games together this series, it will be the most of any NSW spine this century in overtaking the previous mark of four.

“It’s such a big thing in the game today, keeping the combinations alive,” Stuart said.

“We had a little bit of time together, and that created a real cohesion and comfort of knowing one another’s game.

“Myself and Laurie, Brad Clyde there, Benny Elias. And my front-rowers were Blocker (Steve Roach) and Lazo (Glenn Lazarus).

“We played for Australia together and represented for three or four years.

“We were forming combinations where instinctively we knew one another’s game.”

When Queensland enjoyed their dominant run of 11 series wins in 12 years, Billy Slater, Darren Lockyer, Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith played in 10 Origins together.

Likewise, Slater, Thurston, Cooper Cronk and Smith started in 11, both at a time where Australia’s Test team was mainly Maroons.

And it’s no coincidence that while Brad Fittler’s men are gunning for four series wins in five years this season, the last Blues era to do so included the Brasher-Daley-Stuart-Elias combination.

“That’s where the great Queensland team got to,” Stuart continued.

“They were great players who were comfortable in one another’s presence.

“Having the same spine is a wonderful advantage in regards to any game, let alone Origin.

“Nathan and Jarome, they have played with James at the back.

“They are used to Cooky’s game, they know what he is about. It’s a very distinct advantage.”

As far as Tedesco is concerned, the stability in the spine has bought NSW days in preparations.

“If we didn’t already know each other we would have to squeeze in some connections and combinations in nine or 10 days,” Tedesco told AAP.

“Where we have had these combinations for a while now, it’s just about getting back into them.

“It doesn’t have to change too much.”

What’s also different to this NSW side and those gone by is the constant winning feeling.

While when Tedesco joined NSW camp for the first time, the Blues were close to their lowest ebb, only Daniel Tupou and Payne Haas have a losing record in Origin.

“It’s different,” Tedesco said.

“The vibe the last couple of years, probably since 2018, is just excitement. It’s a lot of young guys who are in form just excited to come in and play footy.

“There hasn’t been that ‘shit we better win’, that worry of ‘I hope we win’. ‘

“It’s more just get in and focus, and enjoy playing for our state and with each other.”

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