Michael Maguire couldn’t stop touching the jersey.

As the new coach fronted the media for the first time as New South Wales boss in earnest and outlined the choices he made for his first game in charge, he had a sky blue jersey on the desk in front of him.

Periodically, he’d reach out and feel the fabric. When he wanted to stress a point, he’d take the whole thing in his hand.

When he really wanted to emphasise something – like why he chose Jake Trbojevic as captain or why he won’t be distracted by any possible links to joining Parramatta – he’d hold it up in front of the media horde.

“It represents what this is all about. I grew up watching it, dreaming. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” Maguire said.

“This is what it’s all about at the moment. The one thing I have to make sure of is every moment that we have to be able to create where we want to get to, to have success in this jersey, it’s what it’s all about.”

Maguire’s passion for the jersey and for this job, which fast becomes rugby league’s most poisoned chalice if you don’t win, was palpable.

But channelling that emotion into his side, a process which seems to come so naturally to Queensland, is the hardest task of every Blues coach.

When New South Wales win, for the most part, it’s a triumph of science over art. Feelings can be enough for a while, but it doesn’t always last — the way Brad Fittler’s vibes-based machine eventually short-circuited is proof enough of that.

Their strength is their larger playing base and when the interstate series comes down to raw talent they can often find an edge. As such, their triumphs are often overwhelming. When games are close, Queensland invariably find a way but if the Blues can get on top they stay there.

In the last five years, the Blues have won six games and lost seven. All but one of those victories was by 14 points or more. Even in some series they’ve lost they’ve put up some big wins – like in 2022, when they smashed Queensland by 32 points in Game II before losing the decider.

The Blues win Origin when their talent overwhelms Queensland’s magic. To that end it’s easy to see some of the reason behind Maguire’s team, which is created in the image of modern rugby league.

The back five, from Dylan Edwards down, has a huge emphasis on yardage. Dropping James Tedesco, the best player the state has had in the last 20 years, is a seismic moment in Origin history and the success or failure of that move will likely define the narrative of the series.

The forwards, and especially the bench, has a greater premium on mobility and speed rather than size. If the Blues have any advantage on paper against Queensland, it’s probably up the middle especially given the Maroons are without Tom Flegler and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui.

Api Koroisau’s exclusion is a surprise and seems to be based around defence with Maguire stressing Reece Robson’s contributions on both sides of the ball for the Cowboys when pressed.

The halves – assuming Nicho Hynes is fit to play, which Maguire was confident he would be – are versatile enough to switch between first and second receiver, which should give the attack a greater fluency.

The problem is a technical approach has rarely been enough against Queensland in modern times because it’s hard to think your way out of an emotional problem.

The whole Maroon ethos, which has been cultivated so well by Billy Slater, is about becoming more than you ever thought you could be, believing I can because we are.

That’s what turns players into folk heroes and it’s why, somehow, the more depleted and downtrodden the team they stronger and more dangerous they become.

They aren’t preparing with a slab of beer and a deck of cards like they might have in 1984, but they don’t have to. They draw strength from every Maroons team that’s done it before them, choosing the strength of memory over the record of history. Their belief in the legend of the jersey is what makes it real.

When your Queensland friends tell you New South Wales just don’t get Origin, that’s what they’re talking about.

Sometimes it can stop the Maroons from seeing what’s right in front of them. Their loyalty can sometimes run to a fault and they’re not without a head-scratching decision here or there – for Game I, the exclusion of David Fifita for Jeremiah Nanai is difficult to understand, as is Selwyn Cobbo’s move to the bench.

But on the whole, it’s what makes them powerful. The Blues win when they have the better team, but Queensland win when their team plays better.

The task before Maguire is marrying up any sort of advantage he can find with the spirit that fuels Origin.

He’s in an unusual position given he’s the first Blues coach in 15 years who didn’t represent the state as a player but his excellent tenure with New Zealand showed an ability to marry up the passion of his squad with the right technical acumen.

Judging by his comments on Trbojevic, he wants his new captain to be the bridge between those two worlds.

“I’ve watched Jake for such a long period of time and he wears his heart on his sleeve. And I think that resonates with our people in New South Wales,” Maguire said.

“That really made the decision for me pretty easy. I can’t wait to sit next to him and he’ll probably show emotion at times.

“He’s a character and I want that in a captain to show people what this jersey really means. Everyone knows I’ve been out and talking to a lot of the old boys and they’re a big part of where I want to take the organisation and take this space.

“Because you hear all those guys talking about the Blues, and it’s quite inspirational actually. I’ve been fortunate to sit there and they talk about what that actually means and the memories that they have of their teammates.

“Going back to someone like Jake, he represents where I want to start my journey with the team.”

The Blues will soon retreat to Leura, away from the Sydney spotlight. Up in the mountains, like on the field at Stadium Australia next week, they’ll only have each other.

They’ll spend the next 10 days searching within themselves for that special thing that Queensland always seems to find in one another. The fate of the series will depend on what they find.

dan