Queensland are embracing the 'underdog' tag with gusto, with captain Greg Inglis and his teammates talking up their backs-against-the-wall mission against NSW in Melbourne on Wednesday night.
The loss of 101 games of Origin experience with Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk retiring was one thing. The loss of Billy Slater with a hamstring injury for the Holden State of Origin series opener at the MCG on Monday is another.
But the tag of the outsider has always been embraced by the Maroons, despite Queensland winning 11 of the past 12 series. Captain Greg Inglis gave a compelling glimpse into the team mindset when asked at the start of the week whether the underdog tag sat well with him.
"Nothing changes there, we always have been," Inglis said.
"It doesn't matter how many series we have won in a row in the past....Queensland has always come in as underdogs.
"We know what we have to do. We know what Origin is about. I have a young side that believes in our system and believes in our values.
"It is always about team first with Queensland."
Maroons legend and NRL.com columnist Steve Renouf said the underdog tag would be embraced by Inglis and his men on Wednesday night before pointing to its long-standing primacy in the mindset of Queensland teams.
"Queensland is very comfortable with the underdogs tag and we all like to ride on it," Renouf said.
"When Origin first started in 1980, NSW were the kings and always seemed to be favourites, and we don't have a problem with it because the ball then sits back in their court and they are expected to win.
"Then you look at the 1990s when I played and NSW had a gun team with the likes of [Brad] Fittler, [Laurie] Daley, [Glenn] Lazarus and [Paul] Sironen.
"Being underdogs takes pressure off Queensland and means we can concentrate on what we need to do to make it all count on the night."
Maroons coach Kevin Walters just shrugged and admitted that the bookmakers making NSW hot favourites to win, as they had again for Wednesday night’s clash, was nothing new.
"Given the side NSW have picked, it's always been the way," Walters said.
"I'm not a gambling man but for whatever reason, NSW have been favourites and this year is no different.
"It doesn't change what happens on Wednesday night from a playing point of view and I'm sure Brad [Fittler] is of the same opinion. It doesn't matter what people think, it's how they feel about their preparation going into the game. It won't change anything we do."
The underdog symbolism has also been embraced by the new Maroons. Growing up in Dalby in regional Queensland, debutant Andrew McCullough said Brett Dallas was his idol.
It might seen strange for McCullough, now a hooker, to look up to a flying winger but the 1995 clean sweep and the late try by Dallas in game two at the MCG to secure the series win remains a powerful memory.
"That 1995 try just stuck in my head when I was a kid," McCullough told NRL.com.
"It was a cold winter’s night and Queensland were underdogs and shouldn’t have won that series. That image just sticks in my head. It is something I loved."
There are plenty of reasons to suggest the Maroons really are underdogs this time, but Renouf holds hope that the big game players for Queensland can secure a famous victory.
"There is a counterbalance between NSW having 11 debutants and Queensland losing the three guns Thurston, Cronk and Smith…and now Billy Slater," he said.
"Even though I love the two NSW boys Jimmy Roberts and Latrell Mitchell and what they bring, I am still looking forward to our two older heads Greg Inglis and Will Chambers giving it to them out in the centres."
Match: Blues v Maroons
Game 1 -
Venue: Melbourne Cricket Ground
- Nine Network
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