While there is no doubt that on paper, history and reputation at least, Queensland possesses a far superior backline to New South Wales, the tale of State of Origin 1 will ultimately be told by the clash of the game’s back-rowers.
As anyone who has pulled on a blue or maroon jumper can attest to, State of Origin is, as described by NSW great Peter Sterling, “a different beast.”
Origin games aren’t won through flash or skill. Origin games are won through 80 minutes of endless hard work, back-breaking hit-ups and spine-busting tackles.
“There must be aggression in everything you do,” says Sterling.
“If you run or tackle soft you will be found out and targeted.
“However the most important component is effort and the depth to which you can dig in that regard.”
This is where New South Wales has the advantage; their back-row (Ryan Hoffman, Luke Lewis, Greg Bird) is made of players who have built their careers on aggression and effort, while their ability to move across the park just as well as they move up and down will challenge the straight-up style of the Queenslanders.
The main strength of the Queensland back-row however is their experience, with the starting trio of Sam Thaiday, Ashley Harrison and Nate Myles carrying 22 more games worth of Origin experience into Wednesday than their NSW counterparts.
This could prove to be a more significant advantage than it looks at first glance, as many pin the success of Queensland over the past 7 years on the consistency they have shown in terms of maintaining a core group of players and building their experience from series to series.
Since Queensland’s era of dominance began in 2006, Nate Myles has featured in every series, while the combination of Myles, Thaiday and Harrison has operated in some capacity every year since 2007.
In comparison, the New South Wales back row has been far less stable, as demonstrated by the 22 less games between the starting Blues trio compared with the Maroons.
However, the Blues have the more experienced interchange, with the two specialist back-rowers on the NSW bench (Watmough and Merrin) carrying more Origin games alone than the four players on the Queensland bench.
Both sides have opted for second-row heavy interchange benches, which is an illustration of the type of game both coaches are expecting; hard and fast.
The Maroons will utilise a 4 back-row rotation, with Ben Te’o, Corey Parker, Matt Gillett and debutant Chris McQueen operating off the bench, compared with the Blues duo of Anthony Watmough, and Trent Merrin, while the quickness of Andrew Fifita despite his size allows him to cover both front and back-row.
Queensland’s option not to include a specialist front-row within their interchange says that coach Mal Meninga respects the superior pace and mobility of the NSW second-row, with the inclusion of the extra man purely serving to counteract the speed of the back-rowers for the Blues.
However, although the extra back-rower for the Maroons will cancel out the quickness of NSW, it’s the Blues’ ability to create second-phase that really sets them apart.
Although the 7 Queensland back-rowers are all strong, hard men, they all play a straight style of football, while NSW, through Merrin and Watmough in particular, have the extra versatility of being able to play hard through the middle, drift across the park or set up second-phase play with strong offloads.
It is this second-phase play that will challenge the Queensland defence the most on Wednesday night.