All eyes turn to Blues halves
Captains of both Origin sides say they're the two players under pressure. They were the biggest talking point before and after the team announcements and during the week-long lead-up, and on the eve of Origin I all eyes are still squarely on the Blues' new halves, Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds.
Blues skipper Paul Gallen said the biggest difference between two fairly evenly matched Origin sides over the past two to three years has been the kicking from Queensland halves Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk and hooker Cameron Smith, adding there will be more pressure on the Blues halves even than on star fullback Jarryd Hayne.
"They know that – that's why halves get the big dollars, because they are under pressure, they have to perform in big moments," Gallen said.
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Maroons captain Smith was happy to rap his own halves, saying the best three in the country will line up for Queensland on Wednesday – with Daly Cherry-Evans on the bench.
"At the end of the day it's up to us to minimise what [the Blues halves] do in the game, particularly Reynolds. He's quite an X-factor type player, he's been playing like that for the past couple of years for the Bulldogs and he just plays with a lot of energy," Smith said, adding Queensland will certainly look to target Origin debutant Hodkinson in attack and defence.
He said Origin is a big jump from club football.
"Reynolds has been there before in a different role, as a utility, he knows what it's about but certainly Hodkinson is coming into his first match so that's an opportunity for us to really test him out and see how he handles it."
Thurston cautioned that while the pair had been going well at club level, Origin is a whole new ball game.
"They'll come to see on Wednesday night what it's like and we need to try and pressure them there as well," Thurston said. "They're confident in their own ability, you can see that on the field so they won't be nervous or anything like that, they'll be looking forward to the challenge."
However Gallen was confident the pair would rise to the challenge.
"Things haven't been clunky at all [in training], they've been smooth, we said what we wanted to do and practised it once then put it in motion on the training field," he said.
"Everything revolves around your halves; the halves and hooker are the centrepiece of your team. You try to build around them and they've been great, it's been really smooth.
"Hodkinson's passing game, he just whips a pass out like I haven't seen anyone do for a while, he's got a passing game on him. [Reynolds'] energy's really infectious. I think they're ready to go."
Gallen applauded how well the Blues halves had gone at running video sessions during the week and taking ownership of the team and assuming a leadership role.
"That's what they need to do because on Wednesday they're the blokes out there telling us where to run and what field position they want us to get to. They've been practising it throughout the week and we need to put it into motion on Wednesday," he said.
Hodkinson's former Manly clubmate, Manly second rower Anthony Watmough, had some very high praise for the debutant.
"I think Hokko's meant for this. They say not many players are born to play Origin but I think Hokko's toughness, it's perfect for him," Watmough said.
"When he was at Manly there was no better defender in the comp and if you see what he's been doing at the Bulldogs, he's been putting them big blokes on their backside.
"He's not afraid of anything, he's got great style, great technique when it comes to tackling and his ball skills are second to none. He'll handle it well – no doubt he'll be under the pump at some stage but we've got total faith in him."