League: Screws tighten on Fulton to end losing Origin run

By Darren Walton

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

The only man under as much pressure to help deliver NSW a drought-breaking State of Origin series victory as coach Laurie Daley and embattled playmaker Mitchell Pearce is chief selector Bob Fulton.

As the Blues yet again strive to overcome a horror build-up laced with injuries, suspensions and alcohol-fuelled off-field dramas, Fulton remains the one constant in NSW's sorry run of eight straight series defeats.

The league Immortal has helped pick all 24 NSW teams since Queensland's record reign began in 2006.

Not even incumbent captain Paul Gallen, the only player to feature in all eight NSW series losses, has felt the pain of defeat more often than Robert Fulton.

"This is the question," Blues legend Brett Kenny posed this week. "A lot of people ask when do the selectors get sacked? We've lost eight series in a row and we've sacked seven players and it's always the halfback."

During the Blues' most barren era, Fulton and his assortment of fellow selectors, including Daley, Ricky Stuart and long-time allies Bob McCarthy and Geoff Gerard, have employed four different coaches, five captains, six halfbacks and eight five-eighths.

Most tellingly, the Blues have churned through 15 different halves combinations since 2006 - all while Queensland have had the luxury of deploying only three.

No wonder the Blues have been at sixes and sevens for almost a decade trying to combat the wondrous skills of champion Queensland playmakers Darren Lockyer, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk.

Thurston alone has played a record 27 consecutive Origin games, including every single one during the past eight series triumphs, with six golden years at halfback alongside Lockyer. NSW have had no such stability in the playmaking ranks.

Significantly, though, since the NSW Rugby League trimmed the selection panel to just two - entrusting Fulton and the Blues coach with ultimate responsibility for the team's make-up in 2011 - a semblance of stability has prevailed.

Fulton and Stuart first pinned their faith on Jamie Soward and Pearce before Soward made way for Todd Carney as five-eighth for the entire 2012 series. Then James Maloney replaced Carney last year when Daley succeeded Stuart as Blues coach.

And now, after three more series losses, Fulton and Daley are weighing up whether to stick with Pearce as the Blues' on-field director.

Despite failing to earn a single man of the match award and featuring in just three wins from 12 matches, Pearce will join all-time great Peter Sterling as the third most-capped starting halfback in NSW State of Origin history behind only Stuart and the Immortal Andrew Johns if chosen next week.

But Pearce, who admitted he might be on his final chance to deliver before last year's unsuccessful series, has thrown up a late selection headache for Fulton and Daley, fined $20,000 and suspended from the Roosters' club game against North Queensland this weekend for being ejected from two Sydney establishments on Saturday and arrested for failing to leave a licensed premises.

The selectors name their Blues squad on Tuesday for the series opener in Brisbane on May 28 and Kenny said he wouldn't have Pearce.

"Out of all the available halfbacks for Origin for NSW, he's probably been playing the best, but I wouldn't pick him anyway because of what happened on the weekend," said Kenny.

As the Maroons again enter the series with an embarrassment of riches, the Blues are just hoping to avoid further embarrassment.

-AAP

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