Meninga to keep the faith
AFTER experiencing the highs and lows of State of Origin, Dane Nielsen is hoping to be involved in one of the most emotional matches in the series’ history next month.
The former Mackay centre is expected to be retained for the farewell Origin appearance of Queensland captain Darren Lockyer at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on July 6, when the series will be decided in front of another sell-out crowd after NSW levelled with an 18-8 win at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium on Wednesday night.
Nielsen was a surprise Origin debutant in Queensland’s 16-12 win at Brisbane earlier this month, following injuries to the Rabbitohs’ Greg Inglis and Brisbane’s Justin Hodges.
He said yesterday he would love the opportunity to play the third match, in which Queensland will be looking for a sixth series win to see Lockyer off in style as heretires from representative football.
“I was happy to get two games and I’d love to play the third,” he said.
“But it wouldn’t surprise me if they opt for Justin if he’s fit. He’s a world class player.
“He’s such a great player and he’s been there.
"As much as I’d love to be there that could happen.”
Nielsen said Origin III was shaping as a huge game.
“It’s a chance for us to win our sixth series and see Locky off the way we’d like to, but it’s also a chance for NSW to win the series,” he said.
“They’ve been through a tough period over the last five or six years, so it’s going to be massive for both sides.”
He said the standard of play and the massive support for NSW on Wednesday night was good for the game.
Nielsen returned to Melbourne yesterday and is preparing for the Storm’s NRL match against Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday.
Although Hodges is expected to make his comeback from a hamstring injury against St George Illawarra for the Broncos tonight, Queensland coach Mal Meninga indicated after the loss that he would stick by the team.
Meninga laughed off claims he would change his side to adapt to NSW coach Rick Stuart’s new game plan of using a mobile front row, as he backed his team to bounce back and seal a sixth straight series win.
“We’ve lost one game. I’m going to have faith in my team and the team that played tonight will be playing in game three if they’re all healthy,” Meninga said.
“We won’t be changing anything. We’re not offering any excuses for the game tonight.”
Nielsen’s father Steve was at ANZ Stadium, and said yesterday the sea of Blues supporters in the sell-out crowd of more than 80,000 gave NSW a huge boost as they battled to avoid a sixth straight series loss.
“You’ve got to hand it to the NSW supporters. They turned out and really backed their side,” Steve Nielsen said.
“Dane was disappointed with the loss, of course, but reasonably happy with how he went.
“Justin Hodges is the first-choice centre so it will depend on how he goes with his return from injury.
“Dane is disappointed he couldn’t be a part of a series win (in the first two games) but he won’t be dirty if Hodges comes back for game three.”