Ricky Stewart stokes the fire before tonight’s Origin I

New South Wales coach Ricky Stuart has stoked the fire with Queensland rival Mal Meninga, declaring he was “surprised” by his old teammate’s decision to put his Maroons players on notice.

Stuart’s comments came after Meninga this week gave his Maroons players a perform-or-perish ultimatum ahead of tonight’s State of Origin series opener at Suncorp Stadium.

“I don’t know about cracks but I am very surprised that they’ve gone against the so-called Origin culture of sticking by their own,” Stuart said.

“That surprised me a bit.

“But I know he’s a smart coach, he knows what he’s doing.”

New South Wales great Steve Mortimer has suggested Meninga is feeling out of his comfort zone as the Maroons coach searches for a sixth straight series victory.

“Maybe Mal is feeling uncomfortable coaching against the halfback who gave him so much good ball over so many years,” he said.

Stuart would not be drawn into guaranteeing that his current 17 were a side for the future, however, he did declare that his Blues were the quickest a rep team had bonded under his leadership.

“That’s my team that I’ve picked and there’s a genuine belief because of how we’ve acted and prepared in camp,” he declared.

“They know that I’ve got belief in them … I don’t need to come out publicly.

“In all the rep teams I’ve coached I’ve never had a group of people come together so quickly.”

While Stuart may have belief, he also continued to understate the Blues’ ambitions for game one by saying that the scoreboard wouldn’t decide how he judged his side’s perfomance.

“I’m not looking at the scoreboard,” he said.

“I’m just looking at what we can actually do with it on the field and just hope that against this class team we’re punching our way through.

“I don’t know where we’re gonna get through.

“If we just can deliver a really healthy team performance, then I can assess where NSW is.”

by Buford Balony

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