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New South Wales v Queensland - Game 1
Contrary to Origins past, things had been rather quiet in the lead up to this year's series. Finally, over the weekend, we read that Aku Uate is claiming to be part of the better backline; James Tamou won't hesitate to 'bash' Cowboys teammate Jonathan Thurston... and just before you think it's finished there, Greg Dowling has chimed in to question the toughness of the Maroon forwards... hang on: that hasn't actually happened this year; Dowling must be asleep somewhere. One can only hope.
As always with our annual interstate battle, all the talk will fade away and tensions will reach fever pitch before kick-off when ultimately, the players decide what happens next. Over the past 6 years, Cameron Smith and Darren Lockyer have decided exactly that and found little resistance from the Blues. Now, Smith and Thurston will assume control of the greatest collection of Rugby League weapons in the history of Origin as Game 1 of the 2012 series kicks off Wednesday Night from Etihad Stadium in Melbourne.
New South Wales have selected a number of debutants mixed with some familiar faces and, as always, they hope that NRL form will convert to Origin form. The Blues will need a masterful kicking game from Mitchell Pearce to take momentum away from the Queensland forwards who will be aiming at the likes of Carney and Farah in the Blues defensive line. Getting quick play-the-balls will be key for this huge pack. A bigger danger for the Blues will be when interchange forwards Merrin, Buhrer and Williams are charged with stopping the onslaught.
This is where New South Wales will find the going tough. Mobility will give them an edge but they could struggle to maintain that advantage for the 80 minutes and Queensland are trained to strike when opportunity presents itself. The unlimited ability of their spine, the size and speed of their engine room, the confidence and cohesion of familiar faces, you just can't help but hate their guts. (Did I say that out loud?). The Maroons are $1.45 favourites and it will take a mammoth performance from the Blues to turn the tide.
My tip: Never been able to physically tip the Cane Toads and I won't be starting now.
Man of the Match: Billy Slater