For NSW to win State of Origin...
Jarryd Hayne needs to keep up his one-man freak show and at least come close to matching Billy Slater’s peerless positional work fielding kicks at fullback.
Daniel Tupou needs to overcome debut nerves and give the Blues an aerial threat on the wing, while negotiating a barrage of high balls in defence.
Michael Jennings and Josh Morris need to maintain their stellar standards of recent series, with their containment of legendary centre pairing Greg Inglis and Justin Hodges critical.
Brett Morris needs to give the Blues thrust coming out of their own half and keep the heat on underperforming yet prolific opposite Darius Boyd.
New halves Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson must produce a kicking performance to trouble Slater, an attacking threat comparable to the great Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk, and a defensive effort without costly misses.
Aaron Woods needs take the next step up, from being a top NRL prop to a genuine Origin force who can find metres when his team is rooted in its own half.
Robbie Farah needs to add a healthy dose of creative support to his rookie halves, while also tackling everything that moves.
James Tamou needs shift another gear from his promising lift in form for the Cowboys, counteracting rampant club teammate Matt Scott.
Beau Scott must take the major hand in containing Thurston, while also body-guarding a willing but sometimes ineffective defender in Reynolds.
Ryan Hoffman must be typically efficient in both attack and defence against the incredibly in-form Matt Gillett.
Paul Gallen must be Paul Gallen, against a player who performs more like Gal with every passing season, Corey Parker.
The bench of Trent Merrin, Anthony Watmough, Luke Lewis and Tony Williams must offer greater impact than their opposites – which they should, on form. T-Rex must go up a notch from his decent club form, bringing the unstoppable explosiveness still absent.
For Queensland to win State of Origin...
For Queensland to win State of Origin...
Must turn up and play to the best of their ability. Full stop.
So, it’s a much simpler proposition for the Maroons – especially on their home turf.
But that’s what makes Origin great. Every NSW player will run out to the boos and jeers of Suncorp Stadium intent on giving the finest performance of their lives on the biggest stage in rugby league.
If they truly believe themselves capable, anything is possible. Even against a team mighty enough to have won eight series on the trot.
No back seat for the NRL
Watching the guys who didn’t make the cut for Origin, and the guys who step up in place of those who did, provides some of the most compelling viewing of the season.
The incredibly frustrating super-talent Dave Taylor provided by far the best retort of the weekend, running riot with a first-half hat-trick for the Titans to remind Queensland that he can offer some X-factor value if needed later in the series. At the least, an 18th man who is a solid performer on the buffet.
Roosters halves James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce played with tidy hands, with Maloney – the man largely dumped by association – the standout. Pearce was duly contrite afterwards. Bulldogs youngster Moses Mbye also had another promising outing in the halves during the same match, with Blues call-ups Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds missing.
Young guns Ben Hunt and Luke Brooks had a cracking halfback battle in Broncos v Wests Tigers. The brilliant Anthony Milford was sensational again for the Raiders, as were centres Jarrod Croker and Jack Wighton.
Beyond the Aussies, it was a good weekend to appreciate the immense quality of our international players, with an astounding performance from Sonny Bill Williams at the forefront.
Sure, the Origin-NRL model still isn’t ideal, with the volume of stars missing from weekend footy, but you’d be a harsh judge if you saw nothing to like on the weekend.
If Benji Marshall comes out and plays another substandard game for the Dragons in next Monday’s clash against a giant, quite decent Rabbitohs team, surely Red V caretaker coach Paul McGregor will rue the fact he did not play for Illawarra in the NSW Cup on the weekend.
Sure, it would have been a media circus and a slice of humble pie for the superstar – but it was one he indicated he was more than happy to chow down on, in the name of regaining form as quickly as possible for his adopted NRL club.
Marshall was understandably rusty in his return against the Eels, showing some classy touches but looking off the pace. Snubbing another 80 minutes' worth of match fitness and confidence in favour of a weekend in cotton wool? We’ll see next Monday but it seems an opportunity lost.
The big show is almost here. The good folks at Sportsbet.com.au have the Maroons as short favourites, largely for the reasons outlined above. There surely can be no greater battle than that of the fullbacks, Jarryd Hayne and Billy Slater, both in ridiculous form. Remember, back in 2009 when Hayne was doing other-worldly stuff for the Eels, it got right up Slater’s nose that his rival was fleetingly touted as the better player. They even got into a scuffle the following season, with Slater producing some neat mouth and elbow work, Hayne a sneaky headbutt. While they’d be well advised to leave that stuff behind on Wednesday, it’s great to see the rivalry reignited.
Steve Price axed? No great surprise there. Meanwhile, you’ve got to feel for Titans boss John Cartwright. Touted as officially under pressure pre-season, his men were gutsy in rocketing to an early competition lead, yet with an unbalanced for-and-against that suggested it would be short-lived. An Origin, injury and suspension-ravaged team fell out of the top eight with Saturday’s loss to the Warriors – but gee, they had a massive dig. No danger of the players not putting in for the coach. Meanwhile, Ricky Stuart is on a one-game winning streak and Des Hasler on a one-match losing streak – which maybe, just maybe, puts him back under the radar.