The emotional tribute to Boyd Cordner that inspired the Blues series victory

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“That’s what it means to put the team first,” Fittler told the hall, before showing Cordner the shirt with his number sewn on the front.

Fittler had decided he wanted to honor his former captain in this way after attending his SCG farewell press conference – but had not informed Cordner.

Cordner introduced NSW players to their jerseys ahead of State of Origin II.

“These images illustrate the courage you need to win Origin,” Fittler recalls. “It was obvious as you can get it.”

Cordner had previously told Fittler that he didn’t want to talk, knowing how emotional he was likely to be, which didn’t matter as Cordner’s strength was always in actions rather than words.

“I was blown away by this to be honest with you,” Cordner said. “I didn’t know this was going to happen until I went to present the jerseys. It was a great honor. It was all well and good, but the result is what matters most.

On this point, the current crop of Blues players has not let Cordner, Fittler, the State or themselves down.

Retired NSW player Boyd Cordner celebrating with the Blues following their State of Origin Series victory.

Retired NSW player Boyd Cordner celebrating with the Blues following their State of Origin Series victory.Credit:Photos of the NRL

Of course, the baseline worked in Game 2 as it did in Game 1, wreaking havoc on the left, right and especially in the middle of the ruck. Latrell Mitchell made up for the lack of the best part of the last two series in impudent style.

But it’s the way the Blues have defended their line, let alone their own mistakes, that speaks to their potential to become a truly great Origin team.

There was no better example than full-back James Tedesco, who became captain after Cordner was concussed in Origin I in Adelaide last year, a game that turned out to be his last.

Desperate Maroons captain Daly Cherry-Evans tilted for 40-20 seconds all night, exhausting Tedesco as he swept the pitch to stop them.

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On one occasion, in the first half, Tedesco made a rare mistake, slightly groping the ball with a deep kick. Spotting Hayley’s comet was more common.

It sparked a man of the match performance. He ran 234 meters, the top of the game, including 40 meters in five fictitious half-races, that’s when he is most dangerous. He made two line breaks and two assists.

For all of his athletic ability and footballing intelligence, what people least understand about Tedesco is his competitiveness. While he’s mature enough to appreciate the form of teammate Tom Trbojevic, those in the know would burn him to think he has passed him as the world’s best player.

Cordner knew what kind of game Tedesco would produce when he spotted him at the team’s hotel hours before kick-off.

Brad Fittler talks about Boyd Cordner at the NSW team reunion on the eve of Origin II.

Brad Fittler talks about Boyd Cordner at the NSW team reunion on the eve of Origin II.

“I could tell he had decided before the game how well he was going to play,” he said. “I could tell when the boys walked into the team hall for their pre-game meal and their reunion before getting on the bus, it was for a big game. He had an air of steel around him. He didn’t disappoint, did he?

Tedesco’s game has taken to another level since joining the Roosters, but there had been doubts about his ability to be captain. Instead, he’s now a leader cast in the same mold as Cordner.

“You don’t choose to be a leader,” Cordner said. “You just have these characteristics. This is how you are as a person. This is how you act. It is not what you choose to do. The way he acts is what makes him such a great leader. The biggest mark of all of this is that the captain hasn’t slowed it down at all. I couldn’t be prouder of him.

James Tedesco presents Boyd Cordner with one of his match shirts.

James Tedesco presents Boyd Cordner with one of his match shirts.

In triumphant New South Wales halls long after full time, Tedesco took Cordner aside and handed him one of his playing sweaters.

It wasn’t the first time Cordner had run out of words.

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