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Maguire should start with a fresh Blues canvas

Michael Maguire was last week appointed head coach of the New South Wales Blues, ending Brad Fittler's mixed six-year tenure. Fittler lost as many games and series as he won, and while that record looked pretty healthy compared to the Origin period that preceded him, it wasn't good enough to have him continue in the role.

Maguire will step into the job with a completely refreshed support staff, consisting of former Blues players John Cartwright, Brett White and Matt King. With the Blues having lost the 2023 series, Maguire has the right to start with a blank canvas. No player should feel that his position is safe, everyone should be selected on their merits for the 2024 series, and that starts at the top with fullback and captain James Tedesco.

Tedesco has consistently been one of the Blues best players for a number of years now, but at 30 years of age, his game is not getting any sharper. He might still be the best available fullback when selection time rolls around, but he will need to prove that through the start of the NRL season. Maguire cannot afford to start his tenure with players that are there on reputation. Dylan Edwards proved recently, in his debut for the Kangaroos, that he is ripe for the step up to the representative stage. He, for one, will be gunning for Tedesco's No.1 jersey.

Bradman Best proved last year that there are young players out there ready to take the step up, if given the opportunity. Players who do well for their clubs in their chosen positions, being selected in those positions for their state. Another remnant of the Fittler era that must go is the shoehorning of players into unfamiliar positions, just to get them into the team. Apart from the one series where he tore the Maroons apart, we have not seen the best of Tom Trbojevic at Origin level, continually selected out of position and susceptible to injury.

Latrell Mitchell is another example of a plyer who has enjoyed his moments, but has left Blues fans with more questions than answers. He considers himself a fullback, he was a brilliant centre before that, and at his best he can tear any opposition apart. The question for Maguire is whether he can squeeze the best out of Mitchell in each and every appearance he makes for the Blues.

If fit and firing, Nathan Cleary should be the first player selected for the Blues, but the No.6 jersey is completely up for grabs and will require a player to really put his hand up in the opening rounds of the NRL season. Will it be Jarome Luai, Mitchell Moses, Cody Walker, Matt Burton or Nicho Hynes? Or will someone new put their hands up? How much value have the Blues gained over the years from selecting based on club familiarity? Do they really lean towards Luai just because he plays with Cleary at the Panthers?

Similarly the scrumbase combination between Cleary and Isaah Yeo has proven unbeatable for the Panthers, but Queensland appear to have worked it out, stifling Yeo's effectiveness as a ball-playing forward. Should Maguire look more to the explosive speed of Cameron Murray at lock or will someone else stand out early in the NRL season?

The hooker role is another interesting selection puzzle for Maguire. Does he go with Damien Cook, Api Koroisau or will someone else stand up to make a claim?

There are certainly interesting times ahead for Maguire, who is ready to embrace the experience, after his success with the New Zealand national team.

"I understand how you're playing at that level, when you're bringing the quality of players together like that, and then playing for whether it's your country or your state," Maguire said.

"I definitely understand that space.

"I've had a lot to do with players who have played in Origin over long periods of time in my coaching career, so you definitely feel the gravitas of what it's all about."

All eyes will be on Maguire when the team is selected for the first State of Origin clash on June 5. He has the opportunity to start the series in front of a home crowd, to show Queensland that a new era has begun, to restore the faith of New South Wales fans everywhere.

The pressure will be on, there are only three games each year and nothing short of winning two of them will please the masses. Maguire has earned his shot at the job, now everyone eagerly awaits to see just how he will go.