It was going to take one hell of a storyline to relegate the representative retirement of Queensland legends Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk to secondary status ahead of the 2018 State of Origin series opener.
But new NSW coach Brad Fittler managed to do just that by naming a record 11 debutants in his first Blues squad.
Captain Boyd Cordner, James Tedesco, James Maloney, Tyson Frizell, David Klemmer and Jake Trbojevic are the only survivors from the shattering game three defeat in 2017, while Australian Test incumbents Aaron Woods, Josh Dugan and Wade Graham were among the players dumped.
The scale of ‘Freddy’s’ overhaul may seem an enormous risk – particularly for a first-time Origin coach and with the rebuilding Maroons seemingly ripe for the picking.
But Origin history has frequently shown that daring in the selection room is rewarded more often than not.
Bear with me here, because Jack Gibson’s NSW side featuring seven debutants was flogged by a record 36-6 in game one. Of the seven, Mario Fenech was never selected for subsequent series while Greg Alexander left the Origin arena with an unenviable record of six losses from six appearances. But Laurie Daley, Bradley Clyde, Glenn Lazarus, Chris Johns and John Cartwright all played key roles in the Blues’ 1990s dominance.
The Maroons reaped dividends from replacing several stalwarts with in-form tyros Michael Hancock, Kerrod Walters, Dan Stains, Michael Hagan and Gary Coyne.
Gibson blooded another six newcomers in the ’89 series whitewash defeat, but they were facing a star-studded Queensland side and Wally Lewis at the peak of his powers. The 2018 Maroons have just lost three Lewis-like figures in Smith, Thurston and Cronk.
Big Jack’s regeneration of the Blues continued into 1990, handing out six debuts for game one – including long-term reps Ricky Stuart, Rod Wishart, Geoff Toovey and Ian Roberts.
NSW broke a six-Origin losing streak with an 8-0 shutout in the series opener and regained the shield with another hard-fought win in game two, which also saw Fittler become the Blues’ youngest-ever player.
The Blues team that won the 1994 decider included eight players that debuted under Gibson in 1989-90.
Chastened by their series loss, Queensland controversially replaced Arthur Beetson as coach with Kiwi Graham Lowe. The Maroons picked five newcomers for game one – Paul Hauff, Mike McLean, Gary Larson, Steve Renouf and Gavin Allen – and went on to win arguably the greatest series on record, with each match decided by two points.
NSW gave out just two debuts in 1991, to game three interchange forwards David Fairleigh and Craig Salvatori.
The Blues turned the tables under incoming coach Phil Gould in ’92. Paul Harragon, Paul McGregor, John Simon, Graham Mackay and Robbie McCormack all debuted in the crucial 14-6 game one win over a Queensland side featuring no newcomers.
NSW went on to win back the shield 2-1, while all five aforementioned players featured in at least one subsequent Blues series victory.
Queensland’s enforced cleanout led to the most unlikely – and one of the greatest – series triumphs in Origin history after the blackballing of Super League-aligned players decimated their ranks.
Robbie O’Davis, Danny Moore, Matt Sing, Adrian Lam, Tony Hearn, Wayne Bartrim, Ben Ikin, Terry Cook and Craig Teevan debuted in the epic 2-0 boilover in game one, and all nine players played in all three games of an astonishing series cleansweep.
Only bench heroes Teevan and Cook did not feature in another series for the Maroons, while O’Davis, Lam, Sing and Ikin all played 12 Origins or more.
Admittedly, NSW also had eight debutants in the series opener, but that group included Andrew Johns and three Kangaroo tourists.
The game came back together for good under the NRL banner in 1998 and Queensland turned to Wayne Bennett in a bid to win their first full-strength series in seven years.
Seven debutants – Darren Lockyer, Shane Webcke, Jason Hetherington, Peter Ryan, Steve Price, Martin Lang and Tonie Carroll – featured in a classic 24-23 win in game one, with Lockyer, Webcke, Price and Ryan also playing in the emphatic 19-4 decider victory.
Lockyer, Webcke, Price and Carroll went on to play 103 games for Queensland between them.
Wayne Pearce took over as NSW coach in 1999 and the Blues handed out a whopping nine debuts for game one: Robbie Ross, Darren Albert, Matt Geyer, Jason Stevens, Craig Gower, Bryan Fletcher, Luke Ricketson, Ryan Girdler and Anthony Mundine.
Queensland squeaked home 9-8 in the opener, but NSW also blooded Michael Vella and Ben Kennedy in a historic drawn series.
Fletcher, Stevens, Girdler, Kennedy and Vella featured prominently in the Blues’ thundering 3-0 series success in 2000.
State of Origin was on the ropes after the Blues’ 2000 whitewash, and in particular the 56-16 result in the dead-rubber.
But Bennett came to the rescue again, overhauling a tired squad and naming a record 10 first-timers. Lote Tuqiri, Daniel Wagon, Kevin Campion, John Buttigieg, Petero Civoniceva, Brad Meyers, Chris Walker, Chris Beattie, Carl Webb and John Doyle starred in a 34-16 thrashing in game one, while all but Beattie backed up for the 40-14 demolition of the Blues in the decider.
Meyers, who claimed an Australian jersey on the back of that triumph, was the only player who didn’t play for the Maroons beyond 2001.
NSW followed an identical blueprint the following season. Phil Gould returned as coach after a six-year absence and brought with him eight debutants: Brett Hodgson, Timana Tahu, Jamie Lyon, Matt Gidley, Jason Moodie, Danny Buderus, Steve Simpson and Braith Anasta.
The immediate result was a blistering 32-4 victory to the Blues in game one. The series was ultimately drawn but all except Moodie and Hodgson played in NSW triumphs over the next three years.
Staring down the barrel of four consecutive series losses for the first time, Queensland brought on Mal Meninga as coach and blooded Greg Inglis, Steve Bell, David Stagg, Matt Scott, Dallas Johnson, Sam Thaiday and Nate Myles in a 17-16 game one loss.
Karmichael Hunt, Jacob Lillyman and Adam Mogg won their Origin spurs in a 30-6 thrashing in game two and the Maroons kick-started a dynasty by winning the decider.
Inglis, Scott, Thaiday and Myles all went on to play more than 20 matches for Queensland, while Johnson, Hunt and Lillyman reached double figures.
Aside from 2009, when they brought in seven newcomers, the Blues have generally (and frustratingly) been reticent to take a hatchet to their failed squads during the Maroons’ decade-plus of Origin domination.
But NSW’s only series win in the past 12 years featured game one debutants Trent Hodkinson (the Blues’ first new No.7 in six years) and Daniel Tupou, plus Boyd Cordner, Aaron Woods and Josh Reynolds, who were blooded in the last two games of the 2013 series loss.