GEAR UP FOR THE WEEKEND | Round 21 of the #NRL kicks off tonight with the Roosters hosting the Bronc...
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State of Origin II gets under way at around 8pm tonight at Suncorp Stadium, otherwise known as the refurbished Lang Park Cauldron, right in the heart of Maroon territory.
The build-up has been a little low-key in comparison to the off-field turmoil surrounding the last game, but one wonders why.
Injuries to key players and the return to the world's biggest stage for favourite son Brad Fittler has certainly marked the fiery landscape for what is expected to be an open and free-flowing game of Rugby League.
Brett Finch will join his club-team captain in the halves following the withdrawal of Brett Kimmorley though injury and the non-selection of next choice halfbacks Trent Barrett and Matt Orford. This actually puts Finch sixth in line if you add Andrew Johns and Craig Gower, but many would think he's lucky to be there considering the non-selection of Brent Sherwin.
So often games are won in the halves and Finch will really need to step up here. With the return of Darren Lockyer from injury the Queenslanders are sure to test this wily young boy. And with Lockyer back on deck, the match-up in the five-eighths could prove to be one of the greatest in recent times.
Not since the mid-80's and early-90's have we seen a genuine stoush of epic proportions from the opposing number 6's. Back then it was always the brilliance of King Wally Lewis taking on a classy Brett Kenny, gutsy Terry Lamb and the free-flowing creativity of Laurie Daley from NSW. Now in similar fashion, Brad Fittler, who inherited Daley's jumper, walks back onto the park for one final dig against arguably the world's greatest player in Lockyer.
Lockyer is a rare person who still breathes instinct as oxygen yet has been coached to a level of near perfection as a player. He knows when to run, he knows when to pass, he knows his way to the line. This is what State of Origin is all about. No doubt this will enthuse Fittler to stamp his class on the game and rise to the level of intensity that has come to be expected. Both forward packs are big and strong, mobile and skilful and play an enormous role in allowing their backs to flourish in the lush pasture of Lang Park.
With the relatively disruption-free camp Queensland have experienced, I'm tipping the home side to victory here, but not by much. In a tight contest I think the Maroons have enough to force a series decider at Telstra Stadium in three weeks, and provide us with another grand spectacle to salivate upon.
Here are the team line-ups:
QUEENSLAND v NEW SOUTH WALES at Suncorp Stadium (8.00pm)
BLUES: Anthony Minichiello; Timana Tahu, Matthew Gidley, Luke Lewis, Luke Rooney; Brad Fittler, Brett Finch; Craig Fitzgibbon, Andrew Ryan, Nathan Hindmarsh, Mark O'Meley, Danny Buderus (c), Jason Stevens.
Referee: Sean Hampstead.
Don?t forget, there's plenty of action before the game if you're heading out there. Two games between the emerging talent of Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia are hitting it out prior to the big one.
Here's how they line-up:
Under Development squads 17s: QUEENSLAND v NEW SOUTH WALES (6.05pm)
MAROONS: Greg Inglis; Anthony Perkins, Junior Sau, Steven Michaels, Richard Brewster; Michael Bond, Murray Emmerson; Paoa Faamita, Mark Offerdahl, Mark Offerdahl, Brendan Hoare, Kurtis Curry, Matt Francis, James Pritchard. Res: Greg Eastwood, Scott Boltan, Charlie Fetoai, Rodney Griffin.
BLUES: Shannon McDonnell; Ben Jeffrey, Geoff Daniela, Michael Lett, Jarryd Hayne; Jarrod Mullen, Dean Caldwell; Mitch Anthony, Jacob Ling, Rhys Lovegrove, Brendan Hlad, Craig Priestly, Justin Wood. Res: Chad Isles, Joel Barton, Dean Rysko, Yileen Gordon.
Referee: Clayton Sharpe.
Under 19s Development squads: QUEENSLAND v WESTERN AUSTRALIA (4.30pm)
MAROONS: Walter Imo; Gideon Mzembe, Dean Payne, Trent McKinlay, Adam Fielder; Paul Rolls, Adam Geddes; Ryan Peters, Scott Gray, Simon Boyes, Luke Smith, Zac Chisholm, Daniel Joyce. Res: Ryan Wilkinson, Ryan Phelan, Adam Blair, Jason Brafield.
WA: Tyrone Coppegde; Jason Godecke, Stephen Prout, Ben Lindegard, Wiremu Paki; Peter Worth, Jade Demrey; Jon Phipps, Steve Gheradi, Rick Williams, Blair Wiseman, Trevis Jones, Jamie Lamaro. Res: Jarrad Adams, Zac Keating, Joseph Mika, Michael Purcell.
Referee: Brett Suttor.