Why Boyd Cordner will lead NSW to victory in Origin III

Boyd Cordner is hoping to celebrate a series with with his NSW team-mates after tonight's third State of Origin match in Brisbane.

Boyd Cordner is hoping to celebrate a series with with his NSW team-mates after tonight's third State of Origin match in Brisbane.

BOYD Cordner proudly climbs up onto the podium, contented smile across his face, prodigious chin jutting out like someone forgot to shut the cash register drawer.

The captain is wearing the sky blue of NSW and after 80 minutes of massive collisions, innovative sledges and even an old-fashioned fight against those evil Queenslanders, he reaches out and grabs the Origin shield.

Right before kick-off, in the dressing-room, he and his teammates had been fired up with encouraging words about them being the next generation of Blues players who would finally roll back the tide of Maroons domination.

"You guys are the future," former NSW coach Ricky Stuart told them.

And now they had done it. Cordner takes the shield from Maroons legend Darren Lockyer and lifts it triumphantly into the air …

No, this isn't a wishful prediction of what will happen at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night before a full house of 52,000 people.

It happened in 2012 before a crowd of about 5000 fans at Penrith Stadium as Cordner led the "Baby Blues" to an 18-14 win over Queensland in the inaugural under-20s State of Origin match – but was it a precursor of things to come?

"The key point to get across is that Origin is still a big part of NSW, even though Queensland have dominated it in the last six years," Cordner said after that game. "Ricky was very passionate about us being the next generation, the future of Origin."

Five years later, the future arrives with Cordner, 25, and the Blues primed for the deciding match of the interstate series at Queensland rugby league's spiritual home.

When Stuart was appointed NSW coach in 2011, he was determined to put passion back into the sky blue jumper, all the way down through the ranks as far as the ball boys.

With this in mind, he appointed Dean Pay as under-20s coach. A fearsome, no-frills back-rower in 12 appearances for his state during the 1990s, Pay says he didn't need to look far for a captain.

"I thought he might've been good enough to play for the senior side," Pay recalls. "He's a man's man. He's exactly what NSW is all about. He is humble, he works hard, and blokes follow him. He cares about what the blue jumper means."

Cordner made his senior debut for NSW and Australia the following year.

Brad Fittler isn't surprised that Cordner is poised to lift another Origin shield.

He was coaching the Roosters when Cordner joined the club at the age of 16. Cordner was the brawny kid from Old Bar on the mid-north coast who was impressing the senior players with how much tin he could throw around the gym.

"He looked like an old man then," jokes former fullback Anthony Minichiello. "He's got the best chin in the business … He was throwing around some weights one day and we all thought, 'Who's this kid?'"

One Saturday, Cordner played junior reps in the afternoon and then made his way out to Campbelltown Stadium where the senior side was playing the Wests Tigers in a trial game that evening.

Fittler threw him on for the final 10 minutes and the teenager didn't look out of place; his work ethic, his commitment, his passion for the jumper.

"It matters to him," says Fittler. "For some, it's just a game. But it means something to Boyd. He's made for Origin."

That was never more noticeable than in the solemn NSW dressing-room after Origin II last month. The Blues had blown a 16-6 lead, allowing the Queenslanders to perform their trademark Houdini act right at the end to force the series into a decider.

Cordner was shattered. As we spoke, he started to leak tears. He couldn't control them.

I'd never seen it from a player but was later told it's typical of the man. His Roosters teammates say they've seen it after regular reason matches in which he's given everything but it hasn't quite been enough.

Part of the emotion could be explained by his calf muscle. He'd torn it during the game and he's been working overtime since to ensure he's fit to play in game three.

How long he stays on the field is anyone's guess. He pushed off gingerly in Tuesday's captain's run. Staying on the field for 80 minutes might be a stretch, even if that's his intention.

Just his mere presence, though, will be enough. Successful teams need a leader and while Cordner doesn't covet the spotlight like others there can be no dispute this is his team in the post-Gallen era.

The time for change is nigh. The paint on Queensland's walls is starting to peel. They're starting to feel like that nightclub where everyone wanted to go but now you can get in without lining up and the Midoris are half-price until 10pm.

Johnathan Thurston has been forced into early rep retirement. Cooper Cronk doesn't even have an NRL club to play at next year. Billy Slater's body is starting to fail him. The party's over.

They will never admit it publicly but there is a feeling within the Blues set-up they are the better side and their time has arrived. This match swings it back their way.

But it won't come easy and it will probably come down to the handful of minutes remaining in the series like every bloody year. If that's the case, NSW will want their captain out there.

Against Queensland five years ago, the Blues kept coughing up possession in the final 10 minutes as they clung to a four-point lead, grimly defending their own tryline for set after set.

"Boyd was right in the middle of it," Pay recalls. "And everyone followed him."

Sydney Morning Herald