Maroons happy to have underdog tag

MAL Meninga knows more about what makes Origin tick than anyone.

"Queensland is a rugby league state and we believe. We grew up watching rugby league, playing rugby league. It is innate in us," he told APN, explaining why Origin meant so much to Queensland fans.

"Where I come from, we were always the underdogs and NSW were always the number one state in everything they did."

Meninga said Origin was played by special men.

"Origin tests you mentally, it tests you physically and it tests you emotionally," he said.

"They're the things you have to overcome to make the heights of Origin footy or rep football."

Meninga is sweating on the fitness of three key players - centre Greg Inglis (ankle), fullback Billy Slater (shoulder) and halfback Daly Cherry-Evans (knee), who will all be 11th-hour decisions . Brisbane's Ben Hunt, who has trained with Queensland all week, is anxiously waiting to learn if he will make his Origin debut in Sydney tomorrow night.

If he plays, it will be one of the most pressurised Origin debuts in history.

Meninga played his first game at Lang Park in 1980, kicking a perfect seven from seven on his 20th birthday when the Origin phenomenon was born, with legend and immortal Arthur Beetson leading Queensland to a victory that changed rugby league forever.

He pulled on the Maroon jumper

another 31 times as a player, and more recently has coached Queensland 25 times for 17 game wins and just 7 losses, steering them to an unprecedented eight straight series wins - an achievement which may never be bettered.

Once again, Meninga's men find themselves 1-0 down in the series heading into game two tonight.

It's a scenario they overcame under Darren Lockyer's leadership in 2006 and repeated in 2008 and again last year, winning a thrilling decider at Sydney's ANZ Stadium 12-10.

With injury clouds over three gun players, the Maroons find themselves in their favourite underdog role, which history shows, as in the 1995 series clean sweep at cricket-score odds, is when they are most dangerous.

Meninga doesn't place much emphasis on the tag, pointing out that even some of Queensland's greatest sides were regarded as underdogs by those south of the Tweed.

While he rated last month's 100th Origin at Suncorp Stadium the best he'd been involved with statistically, he believes Wednesday night's return game can top it.

"I think it can be better," he said.

Meninga said the desire and commitment of both sides in game one was amazing right until the final play, when the result was still in the balance.

"Their defence was enormous. Their preparation obviously was spot-on, and their decision-making at the back-end of the game was fabulous, and that's what shut us down," he said.

Queensland prop Matt Scott agreed, tipping the intensity to go up another notch in Sydney with everything on the line for both sides.

"That's what Origin is all about. Every time we play, people say it's the toughest, hardest and quickest game they've ever seen."

"That's the way Origin is."

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