Never misjudge a Maroon: lessons from the '95 'nuffies'
ON THE night of game one of the 1995 State of Origin series, I hosted a function at the Broncos Leagues Club and made a complete goose of myself. I totally misjudged the men in maroon.
My fading memory won't allow me to recall the names of the FOGs (Former Origin Greats) I interviewed that night, but I do clearly remember my bold prediction. "NSW will win this by 50" was my brash assessment of not just the result but of the rag-tag team Queensland had selected.
For those who don't remember, that was the year of the Super League split and players whose clubs had signed for the breakaway competition were expelled from rep footy. And for Queensland that included Broncos and Raiders players, 11 of whom had worn maroon the previous season.
In the teams for Origin I that year the Blues named nine internationals - Queensland had one. More importantly, NSW fielded legends of the game - Brad Fittler, Andrew Johns, Steve Menzies and Paul Harragon. And coaching supremo Gus Gould was at the helm.
But guess what? The Maroons, coached by rookie Fatty Vautin - who still today refers to his team as "a mob of nuffies" - won that first game 2-0 and went on to clean sweep the series.
And that is why we should be cautious about pre-judging this much-maligned Queensland outfit for Origin II in Sydney on Wednesday, despite the fact it is a despised $2.40 outsider.
The downside is that the Maroons are coming off their biggest home defeat in the 37-year history of the contest, where they were outgunned and surprisingly out-enthused. Add to that the fact the selectors have reacted savagely by making seven changes - the most in a dozen years.
As well, the Maroons have subtracted 85 games of experience from their pack, with veterans Nate Myles (32 games), Sam Thaiday (29) and Jacob Lillyman (14) seemingly bidding farewell to the Origin arena. But the plus is that the average age of their forwards has decreased by three years.
Yet that creates a dilemma of its own - can a forward pack that has lost that amount of big-game experience contain a Blues pack that ran roughshod over the old guard in Brisbane two weeks ago?
While the selection shake-up - particularly the inclusion of 20-year-old Coen Hess - is no doubt welcomed by Queensland fans, the apparent conclusion to Thaiday's rep career will sadden many. To add to the gloom, the sacking of the popular larrikin - just one game short of becoming the 10th member of the elite FOGs Statesman Club - came on his 32nd birthday.
And let me shoot down any suggestion that Tim Glasby is Cameron Smith-driven. Three months ago I travelled to Gympie with selector Darren Lockyer to attend a function and that night he openly sang the praises of the unsung Storm prop.
So while Queensland fans might feel a tad uneasy about Wednesday night, they should never forget the brave past deeds of the men in Maroon.
And, oh yes, there is also the little matter of the Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater spine being back together - arguably the best the game has seen in 109 years.