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Blues look good, Maroons are better

The new-look NSW Origin side is good, but can it match it with a Queensland team packed with superstars like Greg Inglis? Credit: Colin Whelan. Copyright: NRL Photos.
1) Who wins State of Origin?

Queensland.

A month ago I started to think I would be tipping New South Wales for the first time in about a decade – 2014 would be the year the Maroon march ended.

Then over the past month I have watched the wonderful deeds of Johnathan Thurston, Greg Inglis, Billy Slater, Matt Scott and Cooper Cronk for their club sides.

Then you consider the capabilities of Cameron Smith, Justin Hodges, Daly Cherry-Evans...

They are all truly great players. 

There is no question the Blues have picked a good side, but if both teams play to their potential I can see the home side for Game One taking a series lead in what could be a classic 100th match in Origin's history.

2) Is there more than one blockbuster next week?

You betcha!

And I am certainly not dismissing the importance of the five NRL games to be played this weekend, because there is plenty of interest in the Bulldogs v Roosters and Titans v Warriors clashes in particular.

However, hot on the heels of the Origin opener next week, Penrith will host the biggest western derby against Parramatta in recent memory.

I encourage all fans to get their tickets early for Sportingbet Stadium. The match deserves to be a sellout.

It will be a Friday night football battle royale between two in-form teams.  

3) Who is the best prop in the NRL?

James Graham. But what a hot field we have at the moment.

Matt Scott is in wonderful form. Jesse Bromwich has been fabulous for Melbourne and New Zealand.

And then you have the likes of James Tamou, Aaron Woods, George Burgess, Ben Matulino, Jared Wharea-Hargreaves and Sam Moa to consider.

But Graham really is something special. His combination of workload, minutes played, ball skills and footwork make him my top pick.

His performance last Sunday in Hamilton was magnificent. 23 hit ups, 30 tackles, 208 metres run, a try, a cover tackle on a winger… Wow!

Graham is a halfback in a front-rower's body.

Channel Nine expert Phil Gould, speaking on Sky Sport New Zealand after the match, said the Englishman is the most influential front-rower in the NRL. The one the others need to copy. It's a decent rap.

4) Can we change the 'ball kicked dead' rule right now?

Please. Can we just do it?

Again on Monday night we witnessed a 7th-tackle field goal with Daly Cherry-Evans' one pointer to beat Newcastle.

I know I have written about this in the column before, but rewarding a side with an extra tackle after their opponents miss a field goal attempt is not what the ball kicked dead rule change was introduced for.

I can see no reason why we can't compromise on a change, and make the rule a team only gets the zero tackle from the 20 metre restart if the kick of any kind from the opposition was from over 40 metres out.

That then still punishes the team that adopts the defensive tactic of kicking the ball dead from long range, but doesn't penalise a team for the majority of field goal attempts, which is a legitimate scoring play.

5) Should we be considering the Cowboys as a genuine title contender?

Yes, but…

Their last three wins have been convincing, beating the Eels by 28, the Broncos by 13, and the Roosters by 32.

On a congested competition table, the Cowboys haven't given up too much ground after an indifferent start to the season.

However, all of those recent wins have come at home where they boast a 5-1 record this year. Away from Townsville they are 0-4.

Start winning on the road, and then we'll all begin thinking 2014 could be the year North Queensland claim a first premiership.

Until then, they have a bit to prove.

6) Could the NRL host a 'Magic Weekend'?

Possibly, but not in the way the Super League have all 14 teams in their competition playing at the one venue over two days.

Last weekend was a great success in Manchester as 64,552 fans attended Etihad Stadium. Four matches were played on the Saturday back-to-back, followed by three on the Sunday.  It was the eighth time the Magic Weekend had been staged.

I believe at the very least the NRL could canvass opinion and do the numbers on the idea for a Super Sydney Saturday or Sunday.

What do you think? Six Sydney-based clubs involved in three matches at the one venue (ANZ Stadium) with 3pm, 5.15pm and 7.30pm kick-offs.

As a young fan I went along to the first ever 'leagueathon' at the SCG, when the New South Wales Rugby League only included Sydney-based teams, so the idea is actually nothing new.

More recently we have had double-headers from time to time at both ANZ and Suncorp Stadium.

Maybe its time to add a little magic to the NRL season through the State of Origin period.

I'm off to the Gold Coast Saturday night for a match between two desperate sides, the Titans and the Warriors. Should be a beauty.

Giddy up!

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