Greatest test facing Origin debutants
The intensity and interest is unlike anything they have ever experienced but two Queensland legends say the greatest test facing this year's Origin debutants is ultimately a test of self.
Blues coach Laurie Daley on Monday named five potential debutants in his squad of 19 while Maroons coach Kevin Walters is tipped to hand Origin debuts to at least two players when the Queensland team is announced on Tuesday night.
Gary Belcher and Wendell Sailor will be among a group of past Queensland greats present when the Maroons of 2016 are named as the Queensland Rugby League uses the teams of 1986, 1996 and 2006 as inspiration for the current squad.
Belcher moved from the Brisbane first grade competition to join Canberra in 1986 to further his Origin aspirations but came in during a period of New South Wales dominance.
Steve Mortimer's Blues had won their first series the year before and when Belcher was selected for the first of his 16 matches for Queensland in Game Two the Maroons were already 1-0 down in the series and would go on to suffer a series whitewash.
It was not the Origin dream he had harboured as a kid sitting on the hill at Lang Park for every Origin match that had come before it but a strong individual performance gave Belcher the belief he belonged at the game's most elite level.
"It was exciting for me because I'd been trying for a long time to get there," Belcher told NRL.com.
"So to finally make it in Game Two, I was extremely excited about it.
"We were under the pump a bit because they'd lost the series the year before but for me it was about personal performance and proving that I belonged and getting a good game under my belt.
"I just wanted to get out there and proved that I belonged and I didn't know if I belonged.
"I was nervous. I was questioning myself and just had to keep my head down and stay out of trouble and try and make no mistakes and get through the game unscathed."
With Super League-aligned players banned from taking part in 1995 Wendell Sailor had to wait until 1996 to earn his first Maroons jersey.
A tourist with Mal Meninga's Kangaroo team to England in 1994, Sailor conceded some resentment towards being ruled out in 1995 when Paul Vautin's bunch of nobodies caused Origin's greatest boilover. "He's one of my best mates now but I didn't even know who Ben Ikin was!"
Like Belcher, Sailor was on the receiving end of a 3-0 Blues whitewash in his maiden series but said that his first appearance for Queensland was a great personal achievement.
"It was hard losing 3-0, it was tough," Sailor said.
"We put a lot into the first one. I was lucky enough to get players' player and for me, when guys like Trevor Gillmeister and Allan Langer vote you the best player out there... I would rather have won the game than get players' player but that meant a lot. It made me feel like I belonged.
"I probably had the game of my life to be honest. It's probably the best football I've played.
"I think we lost 18-6, I played fullback for half a game, pulled off two try-saving tackles on Laurie Daley and Steve Menzies. To be honest, tackling wasn't my strong point but there is something about State of Origin that makes you grow another leg.
"That's what State of Origin does. You just don't know what you can do until you're out there.
"Those debutants, they won't know what to do until they get out there. They'll be second guessing themselves, they'll be having sleepless nights, they'll be questioning whether they are up to it.
"Am I strong enough, am I tough enough? There will be all these questions raised in their heads and these kids would have grown up watching the best players their state has seen, they get the chance now to go out there and write their own legends."