Leila McKinnon, NRL.com
According to big Maroon Malcolm Norman Meninga, New South Wales is bursting with confidence at the thought of playing a depleted Queensland team. Seriously. He actually used the word “frail”.
F.R.A.I.L. Definition: easily broken or destroyed, physically weak. Not a description anyone in their right mind would apply to this pack.
Big Mal has kicked many goals in his life, literally and figuratively. He holds the record for the most goals kicked in Test matches for Australia (96), and shares the record for kicking the most goals for Queensland in an Origin match with Johnathan Thurston.
He has scored the most points in Test matches for Australia (21 tries on top of those goals), and of course he’s won the most consecutive State of Origins as coach with six.
But if he can convince a single NRL player, official or fan that the Maroons are the underdogs this year, it will be an astonishing achievement to surpass all his magnificent records added together.
Let’s look at this sorry Queensland team.
There is a significant 178 centimetre tall, 85-kilogram hole in the squad, one that Mal is right to lament. Darren Lockyer has played 38 superb Origin games for his state, scoring 82 points, including nine sensational tries.
But without Locky are the Maroons “frail”?
In his column for a publication put out by FOGS (Former Origin Greats) Meninga recently wrote, "They are looking at us as a team in transition with the retirement of Darren Lockyer, and I think they believe us to be a little frail with our captain and five-eighth now gone."
"I heard their coach Ricky Stuart recently discussing how well they went last year, and how they will be much better prepared this year, with much better, more experienced players at their disposal.
"I have to say I agree with him."
Fellow Queensland great Kevin Walters recently wrote for NRL.com that winning game one was more important for the Maroons than the Blues this year. But he also wrote confidently that Queensland “obviously have a lot more stability.”
“The Maroons backline picks itself …”, the forward pack “has a great mix of big strong men and hard workers,” argued Walters, before concluding, “so surely you one-eyed cockroaches can see that even with the retirement of the great Darren Lockyer there is plenty of depth to put a very good team together for game one and the rest of the series.”
In fact, the only thing the Queensland squad doesn’t have going for it this year is that it is NOT the underdog.
Out-of-form Jarryd Hayne is the most successful Origin player on the Blues team, with four wins. And five of his teammates have never won a match for their state.
Queensland has seven players who’ve won ten or more of these titanic clashes. Petero has clocked up 17 wins. He may be 36, but who would put money against him winning another two or three?
I’m not saying New South Wales can’t do it. Every Origin clash is hard and tight; anyone can win. The Blues are hungry, all streaks must end, and no matter what Big Malcolm says, New South Wales have the drive that comes with being the underdog.
But here’s how it’s going to go down:
Game one - Maroons by six; game two - Blues at home by a field goal; game three - Suncorp goes wild to a 13 point victory and the tired but euphoric boys somehow hoist all 116 kilos of Petero on their shoulders and celebrate seven in a row.
Follow Leila McKinnon on twitter: @LeilaMcKinnon