Ben Blaschke, NRL.com
They welcome back Greg Inglis and John Sutton just in time for the finals but South Sydney back-rower Chris McQueen says it is up to the Rabbitohs’ other State of Origin stars – himself included – to take some responsibility as the former competition leaders look to end a run of three losses from four games against Manly in Gosford tonight.
McQueen made his Origin debut for Queensland this season and was one of four Rabbitohs players to represent their state throughout the series alongside Inglis, Ben Te’o and Nathan Merritt, with the 26-year-old admitting it was up to him to put his hand up following his successful Maroons sojourn.
“I think for the younger guys coming through and even for the older guys, they do look to the Origin players to produce when the side isn’t going too well,” he told NRL.com. “I obviously got my first taste of Origin this year so I feel like that’s more my role now. But if that’s what they expect of me, I’m more than happy to take that on.
“I think it’s important that I do take that step now. I mean, I’ve come back from Origin and it definitely gives you more confidence. I think everyone who plays Origin, they come back with a lot more confidence in themselves.
“I think it comes down to knowing that you’re good enough to play Origin. It’s probably the toughest football in the world – there wouldn’t be anything quite as intense as that – so coming back to club football which isn’t quite as intense, it does make a difference.”
While McQueen couldn’t have asked for a better Origin debut as Queensland came from a game down to win their eighth series in a row, he said a premiership with Souths this year would far exceed his achievements in a Maroon jersey.
“My job first and foremost is to play well for Souths and I’ve still got a job to do here,” he said. “Hopefully we can keep going and have a successful year so that’s the main priority for me and it always has been. It was a great feeling to play Origin and be a part of that with Queensland but at the end of the day club football is what we’re here for.”
If anything, McQueen feels he is much better placed to handle the demands of finals football this season after playing his first ever finals game in 2012.
The Rabbitohs fell one game short of the grand final last year after losing two of their three finals games against Melbourne and Canterbury, but with much more big-game experience in the squad he is confident Souths can make a greater impact this time around.
“The thing about last year was that it was my first experience of finals football and that was the same for a lot of the guys here, so I think we can learn from that and take a lot of things into this year’s finals games,” he said. “The finals really are a different game and it’s a lot more like Origin than normal footy during the season. The intensity lifts and everything about the game gets harder. I think we learnt that last year and hopefully this time around we’ll be better for it.”
First priority, however, will be toppling a Manly side that has won their past six games in a row including victory over the Warriors at this very venue last Sunday.
While recent losses to St George Illawarra, North Queensland and Melbourne haven’t been the greatest preparation for the finals, McQueen said the prospect of another tough battle this week would only be of benefit to the Rabbitohs.
“You want to be playing the top teams heading into the finals because it gives you a real indication of where you’re at and what you need to do going into the finals,” he said.
“I think the signs are still good for us. We’ve spoken about the fact that it was probably good for GI and Sutto to have a break and come back refreshed after a tough Origin period – particularly for GI who played such a big role for Queensland.
“And as long as we can fix our starts we should be fine. Against the Cowboys we missed the start and never got back into the game and then against Melbourne again we missed the start, gave them a 12-point lead early in the game and never caught up.
“So that’s the focus for us this week.”