No foregone conclusion
ANDREW Ryan, capped a dozen times for New South Wales, has reminded Queenslanders that dominating State of Origin was not their exclusive domain.
Speaking at a Men of League function yesterday that included former St George captain Norm Provan, and also former grand final referee and now Queensland's assistant Minister for Sport and Racing, Tim Mander, Ryan questioned whether Queenslanders had short memories.
"Maybe you have forgotten, but before Queensland started their run of six successive wins, NSW won three series in a row," the recently-retired back-rower who made his Origin appearances between 2001 and 2007, said.
"Such is the nature of Origin that fortunes can easily change. I honestly believe the Blues can win tonight, and go on to win the series."
Maroons hooker Kerrod Walters said while he thought Queensland would win the series opener in Melbourne, and was confident the Maroons could snare their seventh straight series win, he agreed with Ryan the Blues could easily spring an upset.
"How many people in this room honestly believed a few years ago that Queensland would win six series straight," he queried.
"Sure we have a great side at the moment and we look as though we will continue to dominate the series for a few years yet, but I'm not one who's getting carried away. Since the series started 32 years ago, we lead 49-42, and there's only 68 points difference between the teams."
One of the three Walters brothers to have played Origin football for Queensland, Kerrod says the recent domination by the Maroons was the result of a freak of nature.
"We have the best players in the game in most positions, similar to how it was back in the 80s when Origin first started," he said.
"When you look through both sides, there is hardly a player in the NSW team that any fair dinkum judge would swap for a Queenslander. And it's been that way for a few years now.
"But the tide will turn, it always does and then the Blues might start to dominate. If I was a betting man, I'd probably have my house on Queensland to win tonight, but an upset is just as likely."
Ryan played in the first and second series of the Maroons' phenomenal run of six straight, but reminded the Queenslander-dominated crowd that from 2000 to 2005 NSW had won three series, with one drawn.
And he scoffed at suggestions NSW players lacked the passion of the Queenslanders.
"That is a fallacy. Having played in five series, I can vouch for our pride," he said.
"But in recent years Queensland has had the luxury of picking the same players over and over again, and that gives them a massive advantage. Ricky (Stuart) has picked a smart side this time, with plenty of attack. Queensland has an unbelievable team, and we will need some luck, but we can win."
Ryan says the performance of two NSW rookies, James Tamou and Tony Williams, could be decisive.
"We don't have a big team as such, so these two in particular will need to take some ground off Queensland so Mitchell Pearce and Todd Carney can probe for openings," he said.
"We have some major tryscoring potential out wide and the halves have to get them the ball in good positions.
"But that won't happen unless our forwards take us over the advantage line."
And it comes as no surprise that Walters believes the Queensland 'spine' of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater is the key.
"Add Thurston to the brilliant Storm trio and it is a potent, match-controlling mix," he said.
TONIGHT at Etihad Stadium, 8pm.
BLUES V MAROONS
BLUES: Brett Stewart, Jarryd Hayne, Michael Jennings, Josh Morris, Akuila Uate, Todd Carney, Mitchell Pearce, Paul Gallen (capt), Robbie Farah, James Tamou, Glenn Stewart, Luke Lewis, Greg Bird. Inter: Trent Merrin, Jamie Buhrer, Ben Creagh, Tony Williams.
MAROONS: Billy Slater, Darius Boyd, Greg Inglis, Justin Hodges, Brent Tate, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Matthew Scott, Cameron Smith (capt), Petero Civoniceva, Nate Myles, Sam Thaiday, Ashley Harrison. Inter: Matt Gillett, David Taylor, Ben Hannant, David Shillington, Daly Cherry-Evans, Dane Nielsen.