When NSW captain Paul Gallen talks about being dropped head first on a concrete driveway by an uncle in the rough and tumble of his childhood, we nod and smile. We know the same kid who barely flinched back then will have the same amazing threshold when the pain is inflicted by the relentless marauding Maroons.
And Laurie Daley? What of his beginnings?
With that amiable smile, Daley is talking about his own childhood horrors. About how his seven sisters who give their only brother an extreme makeover. ''They used to dress me up in dresses and put make-up on me and all that sort of thing,'' says the new State of Origin coach.
If the shirt fits: NSW coach Laurie Daley may not have the coaching resume of his predecessors but he more than makes up for it in Origin experience. Photo: Marco Del Grande
Which might seem the perfect preparation for Daley's time as co-host of the Footy Show. But, like many things about Daley, it is an image that leaves you slightly perplexed. There is something so relaxed, so still about Daley, you can't help wonder about his motivation. Where did this laconic country boy gain the drive that made him one of the game's great five-eighths? Does the friendly bloke sitting before you, quietly sipping a cup of tea, possess the insane tenacity required to compete with the northern barbarians? Does he have the passion to embrace and conquer rugby league's greatest challenge?
They were questions never asked of Daley's predecessor. The stark contrast in the public persona of the affable Daley, and the sometimes prickly Ricky Stuart, are obvious and compelling. Particularly given they are linked by a fabled halves partnership in Canberra.
Stuart had the blend of salesmanship, cunning, antagonism and win-at-all-costs mentality we have come to expect in the modern coach. Origin seemed to be, for him, not merely a contest but a theatrical stage. One on which he tweaked the nose of another former teammate, Mal Meninga, filled newspapers with far-fetched conspiracy theories and did everything in his power - and a few things that should have been beyond it - to gain an advantage for his team.
Laurie Daley with Benny Elias in 1994. Photo: Getty Images
And Daley? ''What you see is what you get,'' he says. ''I don't play games. That works for Ricky, that's him. I'm totally different to him. But that doesn't mean I'm not just as passionate. I can't control the perceptions of me. I know what I can do. I know what my strengths are, I know what my weaknesses are. I'll let others decide.''
That Stuart's team came within a Cooper Cronk field goal of snatching last year's series against the dynastic Queenslanders was vindication of his methods. So, too, the renewed passion he engendered among Blues fans. Even in defeat, Stuart emerged as - publicly - a more respected and well-liked character.
Thus, Daley could be forgiven for resenting the inevitable comparisons, and particularly the suggestions his friend would retain a strong hand in the team. But he is secure enough to draw on Stuart's knowledge and passion rather than shun it in some misguided attempt to prove his independence. ''I don't care what the perception is of me,'' Daley says. ''I'm more worried about how people might perceive Ricky about that. But he's been great. If I ask for advice, he gives it. Otherwise he stays right out of it. But why wouldn't I use him? He's a great mate of mine and he's been the coach the last two years.''
If Daley is not the irascible, combative presence of Stuart, what will he be? Measured and well organised if his playing days are a guide. This is the seemingly natural-born footballer who, nonetheless, hated the chatter and the laughter on the team bus because it interrupted his intense concentration. Who arrived in the sheds precisely 90 minutes before kick-off and insisted on following the same superstitious routine - ankles strapped, rub down, read his notes - to the end of his playing days.
''When I need to be emotional, I'll be emotional,'' he says of his approach to the NSW job. ''But I think I'll be well organised and I'll try to take everything as it comes.''
The obvious missing page on Daley's coaching reference is a club job. For the most part, he has chosen the commentary box over the coach's box - although he gave up his role with Fox Sports this season to avoid the perception of a conflict of interest. There has been a coaching apprenticeship with Country and the Indigenous All Stars teams. But nothing with the cut and thrust of the NRL, let alone the pulse-raising pressure of Origin.
Daley is not concerned about his lack of big-game coaching experience. ''I'm confident I've got the right skill set to coach at this level,'' he says. ''I've also got great support around me. I don't try to see myself wanting to boost my ego when we come into camp and make it all about me. It's not about me, it's about our team and who we represent and what I think makes Origin players perform well. There are different requirements, and I'm confident I can bring out the best in them at this level.''
Daley's obvious asset is his Origin playing experience. The lows as well as the many highs, right from his first game in 1989 - a then-record 36-6 defeat at Lang Park. That night, the boy wonder took an early penalty in front of the posts and sprayed the kick wide. Suddenly, the weight of the world came down. ''I didn't handle it, wasn't ready for it,'' Daley says. ''It took me by surprise. I thought I could handle it without really understanding what Origin was about. But to get there and see the fans and the roar and the intensity, it was something I'd never experienced. I didn't understand the hatred they had for us. I had to fight back from that.''
Daley fought back spectacularly. He made a vast contribution to NSW's five wins in six years between 1992 and 1997 and, in 23 games, became part of Origin lore. So, again you ask, where does Daley's fight come from? Wrestling the lipstick from his sisters' hands? His early years at Canberra, where the train driver's son from Junee took some time to reach the standards expected of a professional footballer. From somewhere deep inside, where competitive fires burn far more fiercely than Daley betrays?
''I don't know,'' he says. ''I guess you could say from my family there is a bit of a soft side. But I think I'm as ambitious or as driven as most people in what I do. You just might not see it as much as some.''
Don't expect to see Daley publicly goading his old teammate and friend Meninga, as Stuart did. ''I stayed out of that,'' Daley says of their feud. ''They like to bait one another, but they're as good as gold now. But we [Daley and Meninga] don't talk a lot about it.
''Even when we played with one another and we were captains of respective states, we didn't talk a lot about Origin. You just took it out on the field.''
Daley has an obvious respect for Meninga - ''I've seen plenty of teams with the best players not win, so he's doing something right'' - and his team. ''They are a well-educated team, well drilled. The challenge we are about to take on is pretty significant. But it's an exciting one.''
What of the crushing expectations Daley is about to face? He has countered those by trying not to become too absorbed. Before selection, he would watch tapes of games at NRL headquarters but leave as soon as he had taken his notes.
''You can spend so much time watching and analysing that you start to second-guess yourself,'' he says. ''I've tried to just get it done and walk away.'' Wise, given that at Origin time, there are already enough experts ready to second-guess your every move without doing it yourself.
As game one approaches, the seemingly unflappable Daley admits to a few sleepless nights. He is relieved to be in camp, not making his wife and three children the victims of frayed nerves. Will we see another side of him come game day? ''It [coaching] does change you a bit,'' he says. ''Your mind's going at 100 miles an hour. I'll be on edge, I'll be touchy.''
Perhaps that hidden passion will boil to the surface. But the side of Daley all NSW wants to see remains the one it knows best. The disarmingly unassuming winner.