New South Wales look to clinch the 2017 State of Origin series when they play host to Queensland in what should be another blockbuster clash on Wednesday at ANZ Stadium in Sydney. For the first time in over two decades, NSW have named an unchanged line-up – and after their blistering performance at Suncorp Stadium last month, it’s no wonder why.
It’s been a defining characteristic from the first Origin match ever played when Arthur Beetson – perhaps egged on by 33,000 Queenslanders craving a pound of New South Wales flesh – put one on the chin of Parramatta teammate Mick Cronin.
Over the past 37 years we have been witness to all manner of brave acts in the Origin arena. Whether it was a 12-man Queensland team holding off the Blues in Game Two, 1989, Wayne Bennett calling back Allan Langer from the north of England for Game Three, 2001, Michael Devere having his head stapled back together on the Suncorp Stadium sideline in Game One, 2003 or Brett Finch kicking the winning field goal in Game One, 2006 after less than 24 hours in NSW camp each series throws up moments that define courage and sacrifice.
But bravery comes in many forms and if New South Wales are to prevent Queensland’s dominance of the past 11 years extending into a 12th they need to trust that they can execute their skills under the most intense examination the game offers.
The preamble to this fixture has taken us down an all too familiar path as injuries and supposedly out-of-form Queensland players have seen those who play their Origins on paper declaring the Blues as clear-cut favourites.
Matt Scott, Greg Inglis and finally Johnathan Thurston are all absent; Nate Myles, Justin O’Neill, Aidan Guerra and Jacob Lillyman were lucky to get a start and a young player by the name of Anthony Milford is going to find out what it’s like to play under the Origin spotlight.
Only once in the past 13 years has the opening game to an Origin series been decided by more than nine points and the past two have been decided by one and two points respectively.
It’s pertinent to note that the Maroons have won those past two series-openers and eight of the past 13 and they would love nothing more than an 80-minute arm wrestle to begin the 2017 series.
Which is why the Blues must be brave. Andrew Fifita needs to promote the football, Nathan Peats needs to attack from dummy-half, Boyd Cordner must hit holes as though to be stopped would be fatal and James Tedesco needs to be there in support of very half break in the off chance it leads to something greater.
Since Origin expanded to a three-match series 35 years ago the team that has won the opening game has gone on to win the series on 27 occasions which is why, for the Blues, there is no turning back.
If the new generation of Blues such as Tedesco, Peats, Frizell, Trbojevic and Bird are to break free of Queensland’s stranglehold it has to start here with a statement that screams they won’t be intimidated any longer.
Because if this game is as close as we expect it to be with five minutes remaining we will be witness to an all-too-familiar ending.
NSW have named the same team in consecutive games for the first time since 1996, while Queensland have made sweeping changes, with Aidan Guerra, Jacob Lillyman, Sam Thaiday, Nat Myles, Corey Oates and Justin O’Neill all dropped and Anthony Milford missing through injury.
Billy Slater returns at fullback, pushing Darius Boyd out to the wing, while Valentine Holmes makes his debut on the other flank as Dane Gagai moves into the centres. Johnathan Thurston returns at halfback – as does his Cowboy teammate Gavin Cooper in the second row – while Coen Hess, Jarrod Wallace and Tim Glasby will also play their first Origin games.
NSW Blues: 1. James Tedesco, 2. Blake Ferguson, 3. Josh Dugan, 4. Jarryd Hayne, 5. Brett Morris, 6. James Maloney, 7. Mitchell Pearce, 8. Aaron Woods, 9. Nathan Peats, 10. Andrew Fifita, 11. Josh Jackson, 12. Boyd Cordner (c), 13. Tyson Frizell.
Interchange: 14. David Klemmer, 15. Wade Graham, 16. Jake Trbojevic, 17. Jack Bird. Extended bench: 18 Matt Moylan, 19 Jordan McLean, 20 Jack De Belin, 21 Tom Trbojevic
Queensland Maroons (squad): Billy Slater, Valentine Holmes, Will Chambers, Dane Gagai, Darius Boyd, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Dylan Napa, Cameron Smith (C), Josh Papalii, Gavin Cooper, Matt Gillett, Josh McGuire, Michael Morgan, Coen Hess, Jarrod Wallace, Tim Glasby