State of Origin, it is a wonderful thing. Supporters, bandwagon jumpers, mums & dads, sons & daughters, leprechauns, even sport haters all have a voice and opinion on who will win and why. We all know the history of the last 7 years, which is why I will avoid talking about it.
Origin series are so close, with the smallest details proving to be the difference in most cases. This also includes the time leading up to the games. Look at the 2012 series, it was decided by a point, but it would be safe to say the QLD team had a more settle preparation over the 8-week period. While gurus go through all the possible stats available, sometimes the view of uneducated armchair league fan like myself notices things that can add up to a series defeat.
What is a settled preparation? Obviously, it is subjective as every game is different, but there a numerous things that can unsettle teams; injuries, off-field distractions, media, lack of form, lack of game time, travel arrangements, players out of position, not having a side picked, debutants, players familiarity with one another, the list goes on.
You will find that the team that wins the series usually had the most seamless preparation, minimising and/or avoiding many of the factors above. My intention in this article is not to be negative, but merely point out factors that could influence the Queensland team’s preparation.
I struggle to look at the Queensland without being worried. Boyd will not be 100% if he plays, and if he doesn’t a debutant Justin O’Neill will be subbed in to deal with the Breezer swilling Blake Ferguson who rinsed him three weeks ago in Melbourne. Thank god for the ever-reliable ‘Ungrateful Neck’ – Brent Tate. His commitment to league is unrivalled, having employed an engineer to develop a brace to hold his head on each game. Justin Hodges lacks match fitness playing every second game (pretty much) this year; he will be a step behind the pace of Origin in 2013. It has also just came out that Hodges may require a needle to play. Inglis has played centre three times since Game II last June; twice for Australia and once in the NRL All Stars game, neither of which have the intensity of origin.
There is a chance Jonathon Thurston poorly planned conception could keep him out of Game I, 9 months JT, 9 months. His poor form may mean he has been worrying about it for the last month or so. Up step Daly Cherry-Evans, a wonderful player, but a debutant none the less. Cherry-Evans would join Cronk in the halves, meaning no specialist 5/8th and three origin run-ons between them. Those three run-ons were tallied by Cronk in the 2012 series (6 appearances off the bench), and although he kicked the winning field goal his campaign was riddle with poor decisions. He will be better for it this year.
David Shillington, an automatic selection in my mind, has started just 2 games in the last 5 weeks for his club. While front row partner Matt Scott’s Cowboys are really struggling at the moment with their last start being a loss to the then 16th placed Tigers. Sam Thaiday & Nate Myles have predominately being playing prop this year for their club sides. I struggle to see how they will adequately be expected to fill the void up front when Scott & Shillington are subbed off, Myles & Thaiday would have played 20 minutes in the back row already.
Corey Parker aside, who did a wonderful job in 2012, the bench is one of significant weakness for the Maroons. Matt Gillett, Ben Teo & Chris McQueen have combine for a total of 5 origin games, Mcqueen is of course a debutant. No extra grunt here, all mobile back rowers and the one player that has the ability to provide some extra starch is under a police investigation cloud.
For the life of me I cannot figure out why Ben Teo was picked for the Queensland team. I am all for innocent until proven guilty, but with his investigation ramping up, what did the QLD officials think was going to happen? Greg Bird was going to take the wrap for him? If Teo is innocent, he is still going to get dragged through the usual long-winded legal proceedings, which leads me to think he isn’t going to be 100% focussed on his football. Who can blame him? Of course it was going to be a distraction, and of course it was going to happen leading into Game 1, a combustible and very poor decision by the normally stable Queensland selectors. Not to mention I have no doubt the NSW media will use this to their advantage; I have a feeling the worst is yet to come.
This might help McQueen’s debut, taking the limelight off his rookie status. He can knuckle down for the week knowing he is out of the spotlight; he could be a dark horse match winner if used correctly.
Lucky the Melbourne Storm got one over the flying Roosters last weekend, meaning Cronk, Smith and Slater will be bringing some confidence into camp, albeit 1 win from their last 4 starts.
On the flip side, adversity is what seems to drive this team. ‘Us versus the world’ mentality.
Another circumstance that will help this team is they have played A LOT of football together. They are familiar with each other’s games, and know what it takes to win. This could be the most significant factor in the series, and one that out-weighs all the potential issues I have listed above. A majority of the group made their names by stepping up in the origin arena, they will all feel comfortable looking around at the familiar faces in origin camp.
All these instances might be small problems in their own regard, but they all add up to a team that must work extremely hard as a unit to overcome them. It will not be easy. Usually you see a QLD team fly into camp, not too many injuries, minimal off field distractions, Meninga distracting the media with his own personal jibes, Melbourne Storm smashing the NRL, but not this year. This series for the team to gel will take an extra special effort. It is the perfect opportunity for NSW to pull their pants down.