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A match for the ages in Game 1 saw NSW put themselves in a position to end the long standing QLD series winning streak this Wednesday night at ANZ Stadium in Game 2.
QLD will come in to the match with a major injury cloud hanging over 2nd choice halfback Daly Cherry-Evans, who was set to fill the void left by Cooper Cronk after his injury in Game 1. Should DCE not be ready to take his place, the pivotal halfback role in the must win game for QLD will rest on the shoulders of inexperienced Broncos half Ben Hunt.
In a boost for the Maroons, hard running second rower Sam Thaiday is back in the starting line up to provide much needed energy and go forward for QLD, who will look to their pack to stamp their authority over NSW for Thurston to get Hodges and Inglis more involved.
NSW are also without several key figures from Game 1. The Morris brothers are both out, replaced by natural fullback Josh Dugan at centre and Will Hopoate on the wing. Dugan impressed at centre in his Blues audition a few weeks ago against lowly Cronulla and we think that performance has more icing than cake, as Cronulla were missing more than a handful of regular first graders.
Will Hopoate has been steady without being a standout for a Parramatta Eels squad flying first class on the Hayne Plane into the top 8. He is back into the State of Origin arena after making his debut back in 2011 where he scored on debut in a Game 2 home win for the Blues. A repeat performance would be most welcome for home fans, although an honest judge would say that Hopoate needs to lift several gears to match the heights of his 2011 breakout form.
On a positive note for the Blues, Origin tough man Greg Bird returns at lock, and may provide the fire and hunger to will his pack towards victory.
QLD Keys: Smith and Thurston to run the ball more off the back of the forward pack and quick play the balls. Both were unusually absent from taking the line on in Game 1 and will need to keep the NSW defence guessing. The backs need to test Dugan early defensively, force him to make reads through second man plays and isolate in 1-on-1 situations. Any mistakes here will force the next man to shift in and open up the wing.
NSW Keys: Discipline. NSW have some noted penalty charity workers that need to restrain themselves for just 1 game. The forward pack must match QLD or risk conceding penalties in the ruck area with slowing down play the balls. Expect a fired up NSW side from the kick off but over enthusiasm chasing down last tackle kickers could be a mistake. Involve Hayne early as he is the only player that appears to leave QLD hanging in defence waiting for play to unfold.
Verdict: NSW are at home and have enough motivation to win, however the forced changes remain a big question mark against a QLD side largely unchanged, especially their all conquering backline. Cherry Evans is the "second choice" halfback but would easily start for the Blues and is the future of QLD origin. If he plays, we think the well oiled QLD machine will go into the match unfazed by a deficit and look to take the series into a decider.