Now that the draw for 2014 has landed you can be sure there are 16 head coaches poring over the finer details to determine the one point of the season their side is going to do it tough.
For teams laden with representative stars, the Origin period from May 19 – when the New South Wales and Queensland squads assemble ahead of the Series opener on May 28 – through until July 9 is make-or-break time. Some will have the opportunity to play against under-strength teams and perhaps pick up an unexpected win while the top teams will be simply hoping to come through it with as little collateral damage as possible.
How will it affect your team? Read on to find out...
There's no dancing around it Roosters fans: If your team starts the year as well as it finished 2013 you're going to have to hold your breath for eight weeks in the middle of the season. The Roosters are one of five teams that will be without their Origin stars for all three games during the Series with James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Michael Jennings and Boyd Cordner all NSW incumbents. They could be missing for games against the Bulldogs (away), Knights (home) and Sharks (home) but will have a chance to recover with byes on the weekends immediately following Origin II and III. Defending a title was never meant to be easy.
The Sea Eagles have fared well during the Origin period for 2014 and will only be without the likes of Daly Cherry-Evans, Anthony Watmough and possibly the Stewart brothers, Brett and Glenn, for one game if selected. With byes in Rounds 11 and 14 Manly will only have to fight through a clash with the Bulldogs in Round 17 with a team that will be less than full strength. The challenge for Manly's rep stars will be in backing up with games against the Broncos (four days after Origin I), Sharks (three days after Origin II) and Wests Tigers (two days after Origin III).
South Sydney coach Michael Maguire needs to start planning for life without Greg Inglis because the Queensland and Kangaroos star is unlikely to be sighted in red and green too often once he heads into Queensland camp on May 19. Like the Roosters, the Rabbitohs have games without their Origin players for each of the three Origin clashes with Inglis likely to be joined in the Maroons camp by Ben Te'o and Chris McQueen while Adam Reynolds and John Sutton will be hoping to push their claims for higher honours with NSW in the first half of the season. Between Rounds 10 to 19, Inglis may only be available for games against the Dragons (Round 12), Warriors (Round 13) and Cowboys (Round 16), missing clashes with the Sharks (Round 11), Wests Tigers (Round 14) and Titans (Round 17).
The Knights could have as many as four players on Origin duty with Darius Boyd and James McManus both figuring in Game Three this year and Kurt Gidley and Jarrod Mullen regularly in line for selection for NSW. A Round 14 clash with the Roosters is the only game the Knights will be affected by Origin selections, which should be cancelled out by the expected strong representation of Roosters players. In terms of backing up, the Knights travel to Auckland to face the Warriors after Origin I, host the Cowboys on the Monday after Origin II and face the Sharks four days after Origin III.
With two byes during the eight weeks of Origin it may be the post-Origin period that has the greatest affect on the Storm. Barring injuries, Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk will be among the first chosen for Queensland with Will Chambers and Ryan Hoffman also in the mix for Queensland and NSW respectively. The Origin reps will only miss a Monday night clash with the Titans in Round 14 but they can expect bruising encounters on the other side of Origin with games against the Bulldogs, Raiders, Broncos and Tigers to follow in the weeks after Game Three.
Take Paul Gallen, Andrew Fifita and Luke Lewis out of the Sharks forward pack and then consider the possibility of losing Todd Carney and Michael Gordon and all of a sudden the Origin period looks crucial to Cronulla's chances. Factor in that they will face the two best-performing teams of last season, the Roosters and Rabbitohs, without those players and it will be up to the supporting cast members to keep the Sharks' top four aspirations on track. The Sharks have battled on gamely when Gallen has been missing in recent seasons and the Blues skipper will be asked to perform Herculean efforts again when he is asked to back up against Manly and Newcastle in the days following Origin II and III.
Where many clubs may view the Origin period with dread, Bulldogs coach Des Hasler can perhaps view it as a land of opportunity. While Josh Reynolds remains very much in the mix for NSW, Josh Morris is the only Bulldogs player who appeared in Game Three of this year's Series. The Dogs will get to face a Roosters team minus their rep stars in Round 11, a Jarryd Hayne-less Eels in Round 14 and a Manly team that will be missing their halfback, Daly Cherry-Evans, at the very least, in Round 17. The Bulldogs could come out of the Origin period with some handy scalps and an elevated position on the ladder.
Take your two starting props and your captain and five-eighth out of any team and you're going to struggle. In his first year as an NRL coach Paul Green will be already planning how to get his rep players through in one piece and plotting ways to deal with their absences in Round 11 and Round 17. First comes a trip to Canberra without the likes of Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott, James Tamou and Brent Tate followed six weeks later by a clash with the Dragons at WIN Jubilee Oval. If Tariq Sims forces his way into the Blues side then the Cowboys' away record could cop another hammering. North Queensland's rep stars will get eight days to recover following Origin III to be followed by consecutive away games to the Sharks and Bulldogs.
If Ryan James continues his upward trend and Dave Taylor plays like Dave Taylor more often than Dave Taylor normally does then the Titans could be without four of their key forwards for three games during the Origin period. Clashes with the Warriors, Storm and Rabbitohs all come as Origin players are in camp, so how coach John Cartwright manages his roster through that period will be critical. Greg Bird and Nate Myles are certain selections for NSW and Queensland respectively but will twice be asked to back up against the Dragons and Raiders, making their start to the season – where they have five games away from home in the opening eight rounds – vital to their finals chances.
Although they have a handful of Kiwi stars the Panthers' only Origin prospect looks to be prop Tim Grant, who will need a strong start to the season to push his claims for NSW. The Panthers are drawn to play the Dragons and Wests Tigers with players in camp while they face the Eels and the Broncos in the days following Origin I and Origin III. With byes in Rounds 11 and 15, coach Ivan Cleary may even target this eight-week period as a time when his side can make a charge.
A clash with the Kiwi-based team is always a bruising encounter but when you have put your body through 80 minutes of Origin torture in the days beforehand, backing up for another battering is more a psychological challenge than a physical one. The Warriors line up against the Knights, Broncos and Eels off the back of the three Origin fixtures next year and will likely smell some blood in the water and a chance to move in for the kill. No Warriors player took the field in the 2013 State of Origin Series and with four games at home between Rounds 12 and 18 it's the perfect chance for Elliott's men to make their move.
Traditionally the club most affected by the Origin period, the Broncos supplied Sam Thaiday, Justin Hodges, Corey Parker and Matt Gillett to this year's Series and all but Hodges would be in line for further honours in 2014. Of course, the Achilles injury to Hodges means he is unlikely to be sighted until the Origin Series is completed so coach Anthony Griffin will be eagerly monitoring his progress. The 'baby' Broncos will be sent to Sydney for another assignment against the Tigers in Round 11 but byes in Rounds 14 and 17 mean they will only be down on troops for the one game. How their Origin reps back up for away games against the Warriors and Panthers may determine how Brisbane are placed for the run into the finals.
With Josh Papalii almost a certain starter for Queensland and David Shillington trying to work his way back into the Maroons squad, the Raiders can look at the Origin period as a time to consolidate and build on their start to the season. They get a crack at the Cowboys minus 'JT', Matt Scott and James Tamou in Round 11 and get to play the Roosters, Bulldogs and Titans with rep players endeavouring to back up. If new coach Ricky Stuart can have them ticking along nicely prior to the teams for Origin I being named, the 'Green Machine' could be well placed for a customary late-season charge.
Does Jarryd Hayne's starring performance at centre in the World Cup make Josh Dugan the frontrunner for the Blues' No.1 jumper in 2014? An injury to Hayne opened the door for Dugan to join fellow Dragons Brett Morris and Trent Merrin for the final two games of the Series this year and judging by his contribution when joining the club mid-season, St George-Illawarra can ill afford to be without their star fullback for extended periods next season. If he is selected for NSW, Dugan will miss games against the Panthers (Round 14) and Cowboys (Round 17) and be expected to back up to face the Rabbitohs and Titans. With Jason Nightingale on hand, Gerard Beale returning from injury and new recruits Gareth Widdop, Dylan Farrell and Michael Witt, coach Steve Price has added depth to cover the loss of Dugan and Morris but there's no question they're a better side with those two on the field.
The big question for coach Mick Potter will be how he ekes out some competition wins without being able to call upon inspirational captain Robbie Farah. Utility forwards Liam Fulton and Dene Halatau are both capable of performing a role in the No.9 but neither boast the creativity Farah brings to the table. Joel Luani added four World Cup appearances with the United States to his three games in the NRL in 2013 but at 22 years of age will he be ready to take control of a team? The Tigers will have to do without Farah – and possibly Aaron Woods and Keith Galloway – for games against the Broncos, Rabbitohs and Panthers. How they come through that period is likely to decide their finals fate.
We probably shouldn't expect Will Hopoate to be in the frame for an Origin call-up in 2014 – but we didn't expect him to figure in 2011 with less than 15 first grade games under his belt either. Jarryd Hayne has given Blues coach Laurie Daley food for thought with his sensational form in the centres for the Kangaroos and will, barring injury, be a certain inclusion in the squad for Game One on May 28. The good news for Eels coach Brad Arthur is that Hayne is only due to miss one game – against the Bulldogs in Round 14 – but managing his workload through the Origin period may be his biggest challenge. The Eels play the Panthers two days after Origin I, the Storm in Melbourne four days after Origin II and travel to New Zealand to play the Warriors three days after Origin III. Making sure he is 100 per cent for the run to the finals will be priority No.1.