Blues stars have ‘extra motivation’ after families left stranded by border closure

NSW’s State of Origin stars have warned they will use the Queensland border closure as extra motivation to seal the series in Brisbane after a number of families were left stranded in Sydney despite last-minute attempts to leave the state.

The families of NSW halfback Nathan Cleary – including dad Ivan – and hooker Damien Cook managed to scramble across the border before Thursday’s 1am closure, but a host of other players including Jarome Luai, Tariq Sims and Brian To’o couldn’t make arrangements in time.

Jarome Luai’s family couldn’t travel to Brisbane for State of Origin II after the Queensland border closure.Credit:NRL Photos

The NRL rushed the Origin match officials for both the men’s and women’s fixtures to Queensland on Tuesday night, led by veteran whistleblower Gerard Sutton. NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo also jetted north on Wednesday afternoon to avoid the border closure, with Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk declaring Greater Sydney a COVID hotspot.

NSW team doctor Nathan Gibbs won’t travel to Brisbane for the game.

Cook said he was grateful for wife Courtney hurriedly changing her travel arrangements with daughter Willow, who will attend her first Origin match at The Cauldron.

“She did what she could, which I’m very grateful for to get her and my daughter up here to watch the game,” Cook said.

“But there’s probably a lot of motivation because we are playing for the fans back home in NSW. A lot of them wanted to come up to this game and can’t, so we have to represent them well and put a smile on their face because they’ve missed out on a chance to come up and watch us.”

Captain James Tedesco is the only NSW player to have won an Origin match at Suncorp Stadium when the Blues beat Queensland in the series opener in 2017. The captain on that night, Boyd Cordner, retired from rugby league only last week and Jake Trbojevic will miss Origin II through injury.

Fittler has told his side there will be no excuses in this year’s series, which has been rescheduled so the first two matches can be played in Queensland after a virus surge in Melbourne forced game one to Townsville.

“A lot of them haven’t played [at Suncorp Stadium] before under these circumstances,” Fittler said. “I hope they just respect the group and if they play that way and commit to each other, we give ourselves a really good chance. If we keep doing that they’ll keep getting picked and enjoy the good times that come with it.”

Fittler ran his most searching session of the week with a near two-hour practice at Kingscliff on Thursday before the team travel to Brisbane on Friday.

Game one man of the match Tom Trbojevic conducted a number of sprints to fulfil his training criteria for his troublesome hamstrings.

Training was watched by about 400 locals, who mobbed players for photos after the session.

“We want a team the community can be invested in and this is a really good sign,” Fittler said. “It can be demanding on players, but you can see they’re not shying away from it. As long as they’re accepting of it, that’s great.”

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