The experienced players in the Maroons squad need to lead the way for the debutants in this year’s State of Origin series.
With half the team set to play for Queensland for the first time, it will be like 2001 where Gorden Tallis, Darren Lockyer, Shane Webcke and in the final game of that series, Allan Langer, played out of their skins.
Debutants such as Lote Tuqiri, Petero Civioniceva and Chris Walker fed off that and fired for coach Wayne Bennett in a 2-1 series win.
I firmly believe the Maroons can win Game One in Adelaide next week but the senior members are the key.
This is a big series for Maroons captain Daly Cherry-Evans. He is refreshed after Manly missed the finals and no doubt has been thinking about this series and getting himself ready over the past month.
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Last year he was brave to come back early from ankle surgery but I remember he said it wasn’t until the final game that he was physically in tip-top shape.
Cherry-Evans is the most experienced player in the squad and is used to the backs-to-the-wall, siege mentality at Manly. The Maroons are in that situation as underdogs and I reckon he will relish the fact so many pundits are predicting a big NSW win.
It is so important that five-eighth Cameron Munster is fit and firing. The early signs are good and from all reports his knee won’t be an issue.
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He is a guy who can win it on his own and as the best and most competitive player in the team it is vital he is out there.
We saw how good he really is in last year’s series where he had a blinder at fullback in Game Three after a positional switch.
From his first game in a Maroons jersey you knew he belonged in this arena and he is going to be a lynchpin for Wayne Bennett. I can see him really thriving under Bennett’s coaching.
You know that three-time premiership winner Jake Friend is going to do the job at hooker on debut. He has already proven himself to be a big-game player.
New fullback AJ Brimson excites me and I believe he will thrive on the back of the three premiership-winning members of the spine. His club form has been second to none and he has built his body up to the stage where he is playing tougher.
Match: Blues v Maroons
Game 1 -
Venue: Adelaide Oval, Adelaide
Go back a year and he was getting rag-dolled at times just because he was smaller. You can see he has been in the gym and put some beef on. Combine that with his raw speed and acceleration and he is ready for the Origin challenge.
He is a weapon and he will take a lot out of this series. I can also envisage him making a real impact on it as well.
Josh Papalii has had two fantastic seasons and is the leading prop in the game today. I expect him to continue that form in Origin.
Papalii has had a break since a couple of torrid finals against the Roosters and Storm and that will have done him the world of good to have a freshen up.
He has his best Origin series last year and almost inspired a series win with that great late try in the decider.
Papalii has a remarkable motor these days and we’ve seen him finish club games as well with a wet sail. The young front-rowers in the team will feed off what he does.
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I believe Jai Arrow was born to be a captain and he can be the next skipper of the Queensland team. He is a smart footy player and he leads from the front.
He does it for the Titans and when he is not in that team they miss him a lot, just with his yardage and his work rate.
This year Arrow has played smarter for the Titans. He has brought a passing game into his repertoire and he has run a bit wider and getting around like an old-fashioned mobile lock. Whether he starts or comes off the bench he will inspire.
I am also looking forward to watching Felise Kaufusi and what he does on that right edge. His defence in the grand final on Viliame Kikau was enormous and that is the kind of effort Queensland will need.
Bennett will want his debutants to just do their jobs and after 10 days in camp with him, I am sure they will be wanting to play out of their skins for him.
NSW have strike power across the park and depth but I still can see this Queensland side scraping home just to shock everyone.
They are true underdogs but Wayne, Mal Meninga and Neil Henry are just the men to get them up to start the series with an upset win.