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It?s that time of year again people. Time to pull out the true colours for your state, but more so, illustrate your personal hatred for the opposing state.
That?s right. State of Origin is upon us again and with only a day until league?s fiercest of rivalries kicks off, I?m feeling more and more like a stray dog on a leash.
It?s difficult to pick a winner in Origin, as historically things are never decided on paper or in the stat book. But I?ll do my best for you now.
Backs: You?d have to favour the Maroons here. They boast a far more potent backline than the Blues. The likes of Steven Bell and Greg Inglis will wreak havoc for the Blues? outside defenders if given early ball from the halves, while Justin Hodges will continue to terrorise his opposites as he has done for the Broncos all season. And Matt Bowen, as most Origin fans know, can win a game for his state with one play.
The Blues have a far more conservative backline. Brett Hodgson won?t let his State down but whether NSW can expect knockout plays from him, as has been the case with Anthony Minichiello in recent years, remains to be seen. Matt King hasn?t been outstanding this season but earns his place on reputation. Great to see Eric Grothe in the side but his defensive defects may be exposed if he doesn?t aim up to the likes of Inglis and Hodges. Mark Gasnier is the main card in the deck, if he can get on the outside of Brent Tate early it may shatter the Queenslander?s confidence ? which could lead to a long night for the former Test centre. But if Gasnier gets off on the wrong foot, NSW will need to rely solely on Timana Tahu for their spark out wide. Personally I think Tahu has yet to prove his worth at this level. It will be interesting to see whether he eats buttered crumpets before this representative game or not.
Halves: Again, the Maroons hold the upper hand in this area. A rejuvenated Darren Lockyer has enjoyed a fantastic start to the 2006 season and from that, Queensland will benefit immensely. Johnathan Thurston?s tremendous start to 2006 has been well-documented and rightly so. These two marvels will hurt NSW if Queensland?s forwards can push themselves over the advantage line regularly.
I don?t mind Craig Gower?s selection at halfback as NSW didn?t have much choice after the Andrew Johns? representative retirement. Gower won?t let anyone down tomorrow night and will continue playing even if every bone in his body has broken. The big unknown is the five eighth position for NSW. Braith Anasta has shown nothing to suggest that he deserves his spot and was selected purely on reputation. I wonder how he?ll go. Origin should be about picking the best 17 players possible in order to win the series. It may come back to bite NSW on Wednesday night.
Forwards: This is where NSW should be looking to play the game. They are definitely the stronger and with Queensland unveiling three debutants in the starting back-row, NSW should be looking to intimidate Queensland from the outset. I think Danny Buderus and Cameron Smith cancel each other out ? if Buderus plays that is. If Luke Priddis is a late inclusion, it?s advantage Queensland. In the front row, I think NSW have a slight edge. Willie Mason has been playing tremendous football as has Manly?s Brent Kite. Steven Price and Petero Civoniceva will get the Queenslanders forward but I think in the front row it?s favourable to NSW.
We?ll have to go with NSW in the back row as well. There will be three debutants in those positions for Queensland whereas NSW boast Nathan Hindmarsh who is now an established representative player, Steve Simpson who has been in outstanding form for the table-topping Newcastle Knights, and Luke O?Donnell who was a certain selection for the Australian side against the Kiwis. David Stagg, Matthew Scott and Dallas Johnson will definitely earn their money.
Bench: As was the case with the forwards ? advantage NSW. The utility position is filled by Craig Wing who admittedly hasn?t been in his best form but has a tremendous track record in representative matches. Expect him to come on around the 50 minute mark and try to dart out of dummy half at the tired Queensland forwards. Steve Menzies and Andrew Ryan will be a steadying influence off the bench, both solid defenders and can cause trouble on the edges of the ruck ? especially given the inexperience of Queensland?s outside defenders. And Mark O?Meley will be given a license from coach Graham Murray to run onto Telstra Stadium and explode tomorrow night. He?ll no doubt be looking forward to a potential running battle with Queensland hit-man Carl Webb. Those wanting some good old-fashioned biff tomorrow night, just watch these two giants go at each other, they won?t disappoint.
Other than Webb, the Queensland bench is a little suspect. Nate Myles has a big shoulder-charge on him and Sam Thaiday is a devastating ball-runner but the major selection which has raised eyebrows is that of Shaun Berrigan on the bench. It seemed that after last year?s Origin series Queensland would be reluctant to pick Berrigan in Maroons colours again. Major back-flip there and it will be intriguing to see how he performs.
Verdict: NSW by 14. As we?ve seen, Queensland has the upper hand in the outside backs and the halves. But these games are traditionally won in the forwards and New South Wales look as though they have too much for Queensland in that department. The bench will also benefit NSW and after some tight early exchanges and a close score-line at halftime, expect the Blues to run over the top of the Maroons in the second half. As we know with Origin, predictions don?t always work out and if NSW are complacent they will be in for a rude shock. The Blues though haven?t been beaten at Telstra Stadium in 10 matches and there?s no reason why that won?t be 11.
With only a day to go, all I say is bring it on!