THE NSW team to play the State of Origin decider at a sold-out Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday will be the first in 21 years without a Newcastle Knights player in it.
The last time the Blues played without a Knights representative was the third game in 1991, also at Suncorp, which Queensland won 14-12 to clinch the series. Mike McLean flew the Knights flag by playing for Queensland in all three games that year.
The last time the Knights did not have a player in either Origin team was game two in 1990.
Former Knights captain and coach Michael Hagan represented the Maroons in the first and third games of that series. Hagan’s long-time friend and Newcastle clubmate Mark Sargent made his only Origin appearance on the bench for the Blues in game three.
Knights fullback Darius Boyd will represent the club on the Origin stage when he lines up on Queensland’s left wing in Brisbane on Wednesday but, unlike the first two games in Melbourne and Sydney, he will not have Newcastle teammate Aku Uate marking him.
After playing the first two games this year and all three last season, Uate was dropped for the deciding contest.
Uate was the last NSW man standing for the Knights, as former Blues skipper Kurt Gidley has been unavailable due to a shoulder injury.
Fellow former captain Danny Buderus missed selection at the start of this year’s series due to Achilles tendonitis.
Since Paul Harragon and Robbie McCormack made their Blues debuts in the opening game in 1992, which NSW won, at least one Knights player has represented the premier state in 62 straight Origin matches up to and including their 16-12 win in Sydney two weeks ago.
Rugby league historian and statistician David Middleton said the non-selection of a Knights player for NSW was a combination of the team’s poor start to the season, injuries to senior players such as Gidley and Buderus, and ‘‘one of those things’’.
‘‘They’re probably paying a little bit of a price for the way they’ve performed this year, you would have to say,’’ Middleton said.
‘‘If they were flying, you’d have to think Timana Tahu would have been a big hope, and if Uate had been scoring plenty of tries I think they would have probably stuck with him.
‘‘His confidence would have been up and he probably wouldn’t have dropped the balls he did in Origin, and that’s probably all that is with him – his confidence is down.
‘‘I don’t think there’s too much more you can read into it, apart from the fact they’ve had a pretty ordinary season up to now.
‘‘Buderus would probably have been the No.1 choice at hooker if he hadn’t had his Achilles problem, and Gidley would have been on the bench without much doubt at all.
‘‘There’s those factors, and it’s just one of those things. I don’t think anyone should read too much doom and gloom into it, by any means.’’
Blues coach Ricky Stuart had pencilled in Buderus as his dummy half but settled on Tigers skipper Robbie Farah after Buderus was ruled out.
Gidley has played 12 Origin games for NSW in the past five years, including five as captain, but has been a spectator since dislocating his shoulder against Penrith on April 30.
The Knights have a proud Origin history, reflected by the selection of 27 players – 22 for NSW and five for Queensland – since the club joined the premiership in 1988. Of those, only Hagan, Sargent and McLean played Origin in 1991 or earlier.
Newcastle’s highest representation in a NSW team was six, when Buderus, Matt Gidley, Andrew Johns, Ben Kennedy, Steve Simpson and Tahu wore the sky blue together for the first game in 2002.
The closest the Knights can come to claiming a NSW player next Wednesday is Greg Bird, a Knights and West Maitland junior, or 2013 recruit Beau Scott, from the Dragons.