PREVIEW: State of Origin II 2021

Embed from Getty Images
Queensland v New South Wales Sunday 7:50pm at Suncorp Stadium

In the aftermath of New South Wales' stunning game one victory in Townsville, many pundits have questioned how on earth Queensland would be able to turn around such a devastating defeat in time for Sunday night's game two fixture at Suncorp Stadium.

Recording their biggest win in history to the tune of 50-6, the Blues were dominant across the park and from the moment they hit the ‘Turbo button' to send Tom Trbojevic over for their first try in the 18th minute, they put the foot to the Maroons throat and never let up.

Most impressively, they showcased their own brand of football with the majority of the Blues pack possessing the ability to shift the ball to their halves giving dynamic duo Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai the time and space to unleash strike centres Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell.

Often New South Wales sides of years gone by would get caught up in the brutality which is Origin football and try to beat Queensland at their own game. Under the tutelage of Brad Fittler, the Blues are learning to play smarter.

Employing the same tactics in game two will no doubt be a feature of their game plan, but it won't come so easy this time round. In front of a sold out Suncorp Stadium crowd, down 1-0 in the series, you just know a Queensland ambush is coming leaving the Blues little choice but to engage in the warfare of Origin before they can begin to think about getting their game on.

Coach Brad Fittler has made just the one change to his game one 17 after Jake Trbojevic was ruled out with a hip injury. Eels enforcer Junior Paulo moves into the starting front-row and back-rower Angus Crichton who missed game one through suspension slots onto the interchange. 

So back to the question of how Queensland can turn the tables…

We've already touched on the inevitable Queensland ambush coming and the Suncorp Stadium factor, but the following pieces of history should give those North of the Tweed plenty of cause for optimism. 

To find the last time New South Wales were able to clinch a series on enemy territory, you have to go back 16 years to the 2005 decider when the eighth Immortal Andrew Johns guided the Blues home. Furthermore - In the 17 live rubbers played at Suncorp since, Queensland hold a commanding 15-2 advantage with the Blues only two wins coming in series openers. 

There's also the Maroons bounce back factor to consider.

In the ensuing encounter after they have suffered a heavy defeat of 20 points or more (on eight occasions), the Maroons have triumphed six times and the two they lost were only decided in the final two minutes of play - A Brett Finch field goal in 2006 and a James Tedesco try on the end of a Hail Mary play in the 2019 decider.

Of course, they're all just stats but what it does prove is what most of us already know - when Queensland have their backs to the wall, they generally end up being a force to be reckoned with.

Personnel wise, Coach Paul Green and the Queensland selectors have been forced into a couple of changes whilst making some big calls of their own.

Andrew McCullough returns from three years in the Origin wilderness to replace Harry Grant (hamstring) at dummy half where it's expected he'll share the roll with Ben Hunt who also earns a recall off the bench in place of AJ Brimson (knee).

Up front, 18 game Maroons veteran Josh Papalii will provide some much needed punch up front alongside Christian Welch who will be hoping to churn out more than the 12 minutes he was afforded in game one due to concussion. 

The return of Papalii sees Tino Fa'asuamaleaui named at lock with Jai Arrow shifting to an edge second-row role (providing he manages to claw his way out of his hospital bed of course). David Fifita drops back to the bench where he'll be joined by debutante Francis Molo with Jaydn Su'A and Joe Ofahengaue axed from the squad.

The biggest shake-up comes at the back with Warriors wonder kid Reece Walsh thrown into the custodian role after just seven games of first grade. That move sees Valentine Holmes shift to the wing where he's crossed for nine tries in the previous six games he's played on a flank for the Maroons. 

Last meeting: Series 2021 - Blues 50 Maroons 6

Who to watch: Expecting plenty of improved performances across the Maroons squad with Cameron Munster in particular likely to produce a big game, but there's no getting away from singling out Reece Walsh as the player most eyes will be on in this contest.  Thrust into one of the biggest arena's in Australian sport at the tender age of 18 is a big ask, but Walsh doesn't appear your average 18-year-old.

Clearly Walsh possesses the complete skill-set, crossing for four tries whilst setting up eight in his seven NRL games to date. Light on his feet, his stepping and evasive skills are top level and after spending plenty of his junior footy in the halves, Walsh also adds an added play-making option to the Maroons with a strong passing and kicking game. 

The kid looks full of confidence and I'd be expecting him to put an imprint on this game at some point, but his biggest test will come on the other side of the ball. 

He'll still be having nightmares of Jake Clifford's towering bombs in Newcastle last weekend so that will no doubt be a target area off Nathan Cleary's boot, but an even bigger test will be his ability to bark orders from the back and direct the Maroons defensive line.

That's a tough enough job at the best of times, but getting a read on a fast moving Blues attacking outfit with Turbo Tom bobbing up all over the park will be no mean feat. 

For the Blues, one player who rarely receives the plaudits he deserves is lock forward Isaah Yeo. 

Churning out an impressive 80 minutes in the middle of the park in game one, the Panthers and Blues workhorse got through plenty of work early before the game opened up heavily in his side's favour. 

Unheralded in his ability to promote the football with his subtle passing game, Yeo is the key link between Cleary and Luai in the centre of the park and also has the nous to go himself if defenders over-read the play. When he's not at the forefront of an attacking raid, you'll generally find him testing tired defenders with his neat footwork in and around the ruck. 

A pure footballer with a big engine made for this arena, it wouldn't surprise at all to see Yeo produce a match-winning play in the dying stages of this contest.

The favourite: On the back of their game one dominance, the Blues are rock solid favourites with bookmakers offering in excess of $4 for the Maroons upset.

My tip:From a pure footballing sense, the Blues were so far on top in game one it's hard to see the Maroons making up the required ground to atone. Plenty has also been made of the dominance of the Blues forwards in game one and whilst their pack ran for 100 metres more than the Maroons pack, it was in fact the back five who did the real damage running for 461 metres more than Queensland's back five.

On the other side, you can't ignore the Suncorp factor and history weighing heavily on Queensland's side. Offsetting that a little is Brad Fittler overturning the Blues culture when he took over as coach and continually challenging his troops to create their own Origin history.

Expecting a much tighter contest with plenty of twists and turns but the Blues should have enough speed and class to come over the top of the Maroons in the final stages. New South Wales by 7.

2. Valentine Holmes 20. Xavier Coates 3. Kurt Capewell 4. Dane Gagai 5. Kyle Feldt 6. Cameron Munster 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Christian Welch 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Josh Papali'i 11. Jai Arrow 12. Felise Kaufusi 13. Tino Fa'asuamaleaui 14. Ben Hunt 15. Moeaki Fotuaika 16. David Fifita 17. Francis Molo 18. Coen Hess

1. James Tedesco 2. Brian To'o 3. Latrell Mitchell 4. Tom Trbojevic 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Daniel Saifiti 9. Damien Cook 10. Junior Paulo 11. Cameron Murray 12. Tariq Sims 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Jack Wighton 15. Angus Crichton 16. Payne Haas 17. Liam Martin 18. Apisai Koroisau

Referees: Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials: Todd Smith, Phil Henderson; Video Referees: Ashley Klein;

Follow all the action LIVE in our Match Centre