Meninga call to arms
RUGBY LEAGUE: Mal Meninga’s message to his troops to perform or perish following five straight State of Origin series wins shows the respect he has for new rival coach Ricky Stuart’s ability.
It’s also an indication he’s privately concerned complacency, combined with the loss of strike weapons Greg Inglis, Justin Hodges and Israel Folau could just bring his juggernaut back to the field.
With a big, aggressive and intimidating pack, NSW will try to smash through the ruck, especially with new fulltime coach Stuart selecting a four forwards bench.
However waiting for them will be Sam Thaiday, Nate Myles, Ashley Harrison, Corey Parker and Jacob Lillyman, each capable of racking up 40-50 tackles if needed.
What Meninga has at his disposal that Stuart doesn’t, is proven clutch players, what he calls his “spine” - fullback Billy Slater, five-eighth Darren Lockyer, halfback Johnathan Thurston and hooker Cameron Smith.
Working off the go forward of props Matt Scott and Petero Civoniceva, Meninga knows at some stage they’ll get an opportunity to open up the game.
It may not be a case of where Queensland can win the game as much as where NSW could lose it.
Despite their best and most detailed preparation in years, the Blues still look up against it again.
They’ve gambled heavily by leaving out danger men Jarryd Hayne and Jamal Idris while placing a lot of faith in an honest pack and relatively inexperienced halves combination of Mitchell Pearce and rookie five-eighth Jamie Soward.
Former Blues coach Graham Murray revealed this week how he would plan to beat the Maroons and it focussed on Queensland backline debutants Jharal Yow Yeh and Dane Nielson.
Isolate them with low cross-field kicks and get early ball to Blues gamebreakers Michael Jennings, Mark Gasnier, Akuila Uate and Brett Morris, Murray suggested.
First, though, the NSW forwards have to match the fearsome Queensland pack and Soward needs to get deep to employ his long kicking game.
You can grab your own slice of history before Origin I kicks off tonight.
On our website you can download posters of this year’s Origin sides as a keepsake for what will be a memorable interstate series.
It is a series which will see retirement-bound icon Darren Lockyer play his last interstate game.