Can the ‘Baby Blues’ repeat the performance of the 2012 team and snatch the Holden State of Origin Under-20s shield from Queensland at Centrebet Stadium? Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
If last year is anything to go by, Saturday’s clash of the young guns could be the perfect appetiser to a mouth-watering domestic rugby league representative season.
The trophy is currently held by NSW and the sky blues will be charged with preventing a Queensland Origin monopoly unfolding this weekend.
The Under-20s silverware is in the federation state courtesy of a blockbusting 18-14 victory at Centrebet Stadium last April where names like Harry Siejka and Edrick Lee gave a glimpse of the stellar futures ahead of them.
On Saturday they return to the scene of the crime to do it all again.
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Selectors this year have again assured fans of fireworks – handpicking some of the most exciting talent in the Holden Cup and dividing it along ancient state boundaries.
A quick glance across the paddock is all that’s needed to know this match is Origin through and through. Mate against mate, state against state will be the spirit defining every set of six.
Most emulating that sentiment is a delicious halves battle that pits Canberra guns Anthony Milford (Qld) and Mitch Cornish (NSW) against each other for the first time.
Milford has made the equal fifth most line-breaks (seven) and equal third most try assists (six) in the Holden Cup this year, while friend and teammate Cornish has contributed four try assists and four line-break assists for the Raiders. The pair have been a dynamic factor in the excitement of this year's Holden Cup competition.
Watch Out NSW: Anthony Milford will be partnered by the gifted Moses Mbye in this clash. Mbye has played a crucial role in every Bulldogs victory of 2013 and in partnership with Milford poses NSW's most ominous threat.
At fullback for the ‘junior Cane Toads’ is Melbourne's exciting custodian Kurt Mann who has made 33 tackle-breaks and eight line-breaks for the Storm in 2013 – dominating all competition.
He crowns a backline that includes the best kick-returner in the competition in Zac Santo (314 metres) and Hymel Hunt, a great defensive centre from the sunny Gold Coast.
Watch Out Queensland: For the titleholders, fans will be hoping dynamo centre Charlie Runciman finds his groove. From out wide, the Dragons’ No.4 has made 30 tackle-breaks and seven line-breaks this year. He is a potent weapon for the sky blues in attack and coach Dean Pay will have been working on Runciman's combination with Mitch Cornish all week.
Other keys for NSW are hooker Michael Lichaa and reserve powerhouse Jake Trbojevic.
At prop for Manly, Trbojevic has made 90 hit-ups (fifth most in the Holden Cup) and 910 metres (second most) this season. He is a hidden danger on the bench.
Brenden Santi at lock is also a masterful selection. Santi is the fourth most prolific tackler in the Holden Cup (211) and, importantly, a commendable 12 of those have been one-on-one.
His adversary on Saturday will be Chris Grevsmuhl, a little-known but brilliant lock from North Queensland who will need to be at his peak in both defence and attack.
Where It Will Be Won: Right across the park, the clash promises to crackle with creativity.
The junior Blues are a big team and will be aiming to avoid a war of attrition. Their favoured plan of attack will be a blitzkrieg from the rear that will take Queensland's pocket-rocket forward pack out of the equation.
A similar style of play last year saw them race to an 18-4 half time lead but the sky blues will be wary of how easy they tired in the second stanza.
Queensland's strategy will be to stick with NSW and wait for their opportunity to strike. That barb is likely to be fired from either Moses Mbye or Kurt Mann – two young Queenslanders who have already shown a familiar penchant for winning matches.
Game-winners for NSW are plentiful. Runciman, George Jennings, Cornish and Santi are all candidates for taking charge of the encounter.
Match Officials: Referee – Grant Atkins; Sideline Officials – Chris Sutton & Peter Gough.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.
The Way We See It: All of the above makes for a thrilling prospect – 34 rugby league players bred on state hatred and conflicted club loyalties thrown into an arena for 80 minutes to determine which patch of turf will enjoy bragging rights... if only for a couple of months until their big brothers slog it out.
We Tip: New South Wales by four points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats.