Laurie Daley goes in to bat for Johnathan Thurston
RUGBY LEAGUE: New South Wales coach Laurie Daley has blasted critics of champion five-eighth Johnathan Thurston's defence, claiming Queensland would not have won a record eight-straight State of Origin series without his brilliance and competitive nature.
Thurston, who is receiving treatment for a bruised knee, took issue with a journalist at the weekend after he reported the Cowboys co-captain needed more help in defence, claiming he had missed 11 tackles in the first two Origin games, many of them on Blues danger man Jarryd Hayne.
Thurston has admitted he felt the pressure of playing most of Origin I and all of Origin II without his regular halves sidekick, Cooper Cronk (broken arm).
The brilliant No.6 clearly let the niggling tactics of the NSW players get to him in game two, slapping Blues forward Beau Scott in the face with an open hand and getting involved in an ugly altercation with opposite number Josh Reynolds.
That prompted Blues prop and Cowboys team-mate James Tamou to suggest his NRL club captain had "lost control".
Daley said yesterday he was seriously fearful of how Thurston would react to what he called "unjustified" criticism.
"JT is one of the world's best ever players and he's proven it time and time again," fired Daley, who also played most of his 23 Origins for NSW at No.6.
"The criticism he's received has been unfair. He's a champion and he'll respond in a positive manner on Wednesday night - which is something we have to guard against.
"Without him they may not have won some of those clashes with NSW, so the criticism of him is both unjust and unfair."
With Queensland putting up the media shutters yesterday, Daley was forced to take on the role of sole spruiker for Origin III.
The Queensland Rugby League has slugged Maroons fans with excessively high ticket prices to watch a game that can't change the series, as a mark of respect to a champion side, yet it couldn't put up coach Mal Meninga to promote the game because he had "other business interests" to attend to.
Daley could have used the forum to take a decent dig at his former Canberra and Australian teammate, instead, the Blues coach fielded a range of questions from the media, from both sides of the border, for more than 15 minutes and answered every probe honestly.
He said he hadn't noticed any change in the attitude of his players from games one and two; said he didn't know if Wednesday's game would open up and had no idea if the niggle would explode on referees Ben Cummins and new boy Gerard Sutton.
He also said he had never coached a side to go out and play dirty or employ illegal tactics. "Everyone has had their moments right through Origin history, but I can guarantee you I've never coached a team to gout there and do the wrong thing," Daley said.