Members of the NSW team that famously overcame massive off-field drama to win the 2004 State of Origin series are adamant the racial slur controversy won’t ruin the Blues’ chances in Origin II tomorrow night.NSW’s 2004 campaign was rocked when an alcohol-fuelled bonding session before game one spiralled out of control and two players – Mark Gasnier and Anthony Minichiello – were sacked from the team following a NSWRL investigation. Gasnier was found to have left an obscene message on a woman’s mobile phone in the middle of the night, using Minichiello’s mobile. Minichiello broke a team rule banning mobiles from the bonding session.Five other players were fined a total of $20,000 for lesser indiscretions but, with Phil Gould at the helm, NSW managed to focus on the game and win it 9-8. The Blues went on to win the series 2-1.Luke Lewis and Andrew Ryan, veterans of the 2004 series, praised Gould’s skill in getting players to ignore potential distractions and concentrate on their jobs. They believe Craig Bellamy can similarly direct the players through the minefield, and that the challenge of trying to keep the series alive will be paramount in the players’ minds.”These are the sort of moments guys play the game for – when a series is on the line,” said Lewis, who is serving a one-match suspension that ruled him out of Origin II.”Origin is the greatest challenge there is in this game, and when the odds are against you, like they are with NSW since we’re a game down, players rise to the occasion. Their mental toughness comes out.”[Gould] was a pretty special coach. The memory of playing in my first Origin game is a bit of a blur to me, because it was a such a big occasion, but I remember him calling a meeting of the players after all the drama had happened. He said what’s happened has happened, but now we’re going to move on. He said none of it was going to change what we were going to do to get ready for the game. We didn’t talk about it again after that, and we were ready to play when the game came around.”The thing about players who make it to Origin level is that they don’t allow whatever drama that might be going on to … put them off playing the game, and they don’t get ready to use it as an excuse if they don’t win.”Ryan said that, against a backdrop of drama, it was the responsibility of the players to concentrate on controlling factors they knew they could control.”Gus told us that none of what had happened was under our control, and that as individuals we had to prepare to do our jobs,” he said. ”He said that if our minds weren’t on the job then the whole thing would go pear-shaped. If we’d spent time thinking about the drama, it would have been a waste of energy.”It’s all about being strong in the mind, and worrying about yourself and what you have to do, as part of a team. It was an advantage having an experienced coach like Gus in a situation like that, because he knows how to steer you in the right direction.”Ryan has not played for NSW since 2007 – the year before Bellamy took over – but he has had experience playing under Bellamy for Country, and is certain the coach is equipped to ensure the Blues play to their ability in Origin II.”I’m sure he’ll have the team ready to play, and that the result will come down to which is the better team,” he said.Bellamy may not have coached a series-winning Origin team yet, but Lewis said he saw plenty of similarities between ”Bellyache” and Gould.”They both tell great stories that really pump you up in camp,” he said. ”Stories about football, but also stories about things that have happened in other walks of life, and courageous people they’ve met. Craig will have them ready to rock and roll on Wednesday night.”
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