Winning Starts Monday
NSW coach Laurie Daley declined to pick Mitchell Pearce after he was involved in a late-night bar incident.
Todd Carney's sacking from Cronulla is the latest indication that player power is on the wane, with NSW, Penrith and the Sharks all benefiting from a tough stance on ill discipline by big-name stars.
Like Cronulla, the Blues and Panthers have axed star players for misbehaviour or poor attitude and have been respectively rewarded in the form of a historic State of Origin win and a share of the NRL competition lead.
The Sharks even gained a major sponsor in Labour Health, while their players put aside speculation they had initially considered boycotting last Saturday night's match against Sydney Roosters in protest at Carney's sacking to record one of the greatest wins in the club's history.
Cronulla's 30-28 win demonstrated that no player was bigger than the club and less than two weeks after captain Paul Gallen questioned the commitment of interim coach Peter Sharp, who has since resigned, Sharks management – led by chief executive Steve Noyce – have made it clear that they now call the shots.
Whether or not Cronulla officials followed due process in terminating Carney's $3.5 million, five-year contract without a hearing is another matter, but the easy decision would have been for them to give the troubled playmaker yet another chance.
Blues coach Laurie Daley found out the hard way that approach doesn't work when NSW's 2013 Origin campaign was derailed by the arrest of James Tamou and Blake Ferguson in separate incidents before the team went into camp for game two after winning the series opener.
While the pair were suspended from Origin II, Daley stuck by Josh Dugan, who had been out with Ferguson celebrating their reunification for the Blues after his sacking from Canberra, and he recalled Tamou for the series decider.
However, after his first season in charge Daley decided the culture in the NSW team needed to change and he excluded Tamou and Dugan from a pre-season camp before dumping long-serving halfback Mitchell Pearce after his arrest on the eve of this year's series.
It is hard to say for sure but Pearce's axing is likely to have been the moment when the group of Blues players that Daley had largely inherited from Ricky Stuart became his team.
After endorsing Pearce as the NSW halfback before the 2013 season had even started, Daley refused to publicly guarantee any player their position this year and told the camp in January that he expected them to meet certain behavioural standards at all times.
Had he stuck by the Sydney Roosters playmaker, who was once considered a future Blues captain, Daley's words would have been viewed as little more than a hollow threat by the NSW players and his authority to enforce change would have been undermined.
More than one coach has told this columnist after being sacked by an NRL club that they regretted not adopting a more ruthless attitude towards the players who ultimately caused their downfall and if Daley hadn't re-invented himself this year as a disciplinarian the Blues may be staring at a ninth consecutive series loss to Queensland.
At NRL level, Panthers coach Ivan Cleary is also now reaping the benefit of a hardline stance he and general manager Phil Gould have taken towards star players over the past two years.
During that time, Cleary and Gould have had to wear criticism for allowing – and in some cases encouraging – the likes of Michael Jennings, Luke Lewis, Michael Gordon, Lachlan Coote, Luke Walsh and Tim Grant to leave the club.
All had been at the club for a long time and were considered to be the Panthers' most influential players, both on and off the field.
But with Penrith having qualified for the finals just once since 2004, Cleary was given a licence to shake things up in a bid to attain long-term success and he made it clear that anyone resistant to change could go regardless of their reputation or what they had achieved in the game.
With the Panthers now top of the NRL table on 24 points after 17 rounds, that approach appears to have been vindicated.