Real or Not? Blues need to start again with a new coach

This week we look at what the Blues need to do following another disappointing State of Origin opener, whether Ricky Stuart should be resting Jarrod Croker, and what has happened to the Cowboys.

Read on as we tackle some of the big talking points in this week's NRL Real or Not.

Blues need to start again with a new coach

REAL: We will hear again this week that there is no need to panic, no need for mass changes to the Blues line-up ahead of a must-win Game 2 in Brisbane. Coach Brad Fittler summed it up in the post match media conference by saying the Blues just had to be better.

"Nothing is impossible. It's obviously very tough, but it's what it is, we need to regroup and be better. We've gotta be better," Fittler said.

"We've played together enough times that when you get enough good ball like that, to score more tries.

"We mostly let ourselves down in that area but that's the challenge ahead. We can't avoid it."

I'm not sure how many players need to be dropped before the trip to Suncorp Stadium in three weeks, but is it possible to install a new coach before then? Because, whatever Fittler is selling, the Blues have stopped buying. All the bare-footed bonding in the world can't make up for the lack of a cohesive plan, with the players fully invested. The only clear instructions the Blues seemed to have in Adelaide was to get to the last tackle before allowing Nathan Cleary to hoist a high ball.

The New South Wales coaching role needs to be taken away from the Channel 9 personality and given to a bare-bones, no-nonsense coach with Blue coursing through his veins. Pick Des Hasler, Mick Potter, Geoff Toovey, Jason Ryles, Dean Pay or anyone who knows Origin, has plenty of passion and comes with a load of tactical nous.

It needs to be someone who will select the team on form, not on theories or team affiliations. A coach who would call James Tedesco and tell him his days are just about over. A coach not afraid to split the mythical pairing of Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai, because despite their premiership success, they haven't exactly been lighting up Origin. Someone who could come up with a plan that would make a Cleary-Hynes halves combination work. A coach who would tell Tom Trbojevic and Josh Addo-Carr to sit out the opener because their legs weren't quite back to full capacity. A coach who knows how to manage a bench rotation would be nice!

The Blues need a coach who would find Wednesday's loss completely unacceptable, and have a real plan to turn this ongoing and insufferable mediocrity around.

Stuart is right to rest Jarrod Croker so he plays his 300th at home

NOT REAL: Ricky Stuart is the Canberra Raiders coach and can do as he pleases with the players in his squad. At the start of the year, Jarrod Croker couldn't get a start in the Raiders first grade team as they struggled, losing four of their first five games. Was it just a coincidence that they bounced back from a 41-point defeat at the hands of the Panthers with a win over the Broncos on Croker's return to the centres? Perhaps, but he has been there ever since, a key part of a winning spree that has seen them claim six of seven.

Now with the Rabbitohs in their tracks and the much-improved Tigers coming up, Stuart has given Croker the weekend off, to ensure he plays his 300th game in front of an adoring Canberra crowd. The Raiders are just inside the Top 8 in what is shaping as a very close race to the finals. They really can't afford to lose too many games, and certainly not against teams below them.

They travel to Campbelltown fully expecting to win, but cannot take the Tigers lightly. Croker is an integral part of their success, not least for his goalkicking ability. It might give the team a nice fuzzy feeling to celebrate Croker's 300th game at home, but if they lose to the Tigers, especially through goalkicking, and go on to miss the finals, who is going to remember how good the party was?

The loss of one player can send a team plummeting from contention

REAL: How can anyone explain what has happened at the Cowboys this season. They have tumbled from a third place finish last year, to a battle to avoid the 2023 wooden spoon, all under 2022 Dally M Coach of the year, Todd Payten. Inspirational forward leader Jason Taumalolo has been out injured for a chunk of the season, but his absence fails to fully explain their downfall.

One theory doing the rounds is that the loss of Tom Gilbert to the Dolphins has been a devastating blow to the effectiveness of the forward pack. Gilbert has been doing an incredible job at the Dolphins this year, enough to force his way into the Maroons team for the State of Origin opener, where he unfortunately dislocated his shoulder. Gilbert is the kind of player that inspires those around him, covers all the little details and is relentlessly competitive. He is a skillful ball player, an explosive runner of the ball and a human scythe in defence.

The Cowboys also lost Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow to the Dolphins, another player who has been so good that he made in back into the Maroons team on Wednesday night. He was close to man of the match in the Origin opener, but it must be remembered that the Cowboys could hardly find a place for him in their side for most of 2022.

If the loss of Gilbert is the main problem, it is up to Payten to find the answers. He has a squad of 17 players each week who are failing to produce NRL standard performances. Something has to be done to turn their season around.