Johns: Six battles that will decide Origin Game I
AS Wednesday's first State of Origin opener edges closer, let's check the battles within the battle which will decide the contest.
MELBOURNE'S COMBINATION V LATRELL MITCHELL
Without Cooper Cronk, Cam Smith and Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater will provide Queensland with a lot of their direction in attack.
Watch for Slater to combine with his Storm right side, Felise Kafusi and Will Chambers, in relentlessly putting Mitchell under defensive pressure.
Latrell can have trouble with his defensive reads, as well as his second efforts in defence.
He can't relax or lose focus for a second.
Slater will have been working on attacking shapes all week.
Brad Fittler has picked Mitchell for his attack but it's his defensive game which will be crucial.
QUEENSLAND'S RUNNING SPINE V NSW'S DEFENSIVE MIDDLE
This new-look Queensland spine possesses a serious threat running with the football.
Cameron Munster, Ben Hunt, Slater, with Michael Morgan coming off the bench, has the potential to cause the Blues' big men big defensive problems.
As the game goes past the 20-minute mark Fittler will have to work his interchange well to ensure our front-rowers aren't exposed.
Expect Tyson Frizell to move into a middle role as the game goes on to allow more defensive mobility in the pack.
QUEENSLAND'S MIDDLE DEFENCE V DAMIEN COOK
Here's where opportunity lies for New South Wales.
Kevin Walters has picked a number of players in his forward pack based on trust.
Dylan Napa's form has been up and down, as has Josh Papalii's.
Coen Hess and Gavin Cooper have been well down on 2017 form, while Josh McGuire has been sidelined for an extended period.
If the Blues can assert dominance in the middle field, Cook will run riot.
The Queenslanders are acutely aware of Cook's threat, so they will do everything they can to slow down our play-the-ball speed. Expect the Maroons to test the referees with their squareness at marker as well.
No player will symbolise superiority more than Cook. If he is prominent out of dummy half, we will be dominating the contest.
CLEARY'S FLAT-BALL BOMBS V QUEENSLAND'S BACK THREE
Kickers continue to find ways to make life difficult for fullbacks and wingers.
Once upon a time Johnny Peard terrorised fullbacks with his high end-over-end bombs.
Then Ricky Stuart introduced the torpedo bomb, which took the high kick to a new level.
Now watch for Nathan Cleary's flat-ball bomb. I've watched him practice it during warm-ups and he's starting to introduce them into games.
It's a kick which he hits flat on the belly of the ball and it rises into the air with absolutely no spin or movement.
As a consequence it floats and changes direction dramatically. It's almost uncatchable.
If Nathan can nail some of these kicks it will cause the Maroons' back three huge problems.
Wingers have an enormous role to play in these contests. They not only kick start the yardage sets, but have the ability to pick and choose moments where they venture infield against a tiring defence line.
Dane Gagai was player of the series last year, and was equally brilliant in yardage, as he was in finishing.
Valentine Holmes is arguably the game's best finisher but also possesses the instinct of knowing when the middle defence is vulnerable. His darts through the middle are almost the best part of his game.
But the Blues have a couple of beauties in their attacking arsenal as well in Josh Addo-Carr and Tom Trbojevic.
Addo-Carr is lethal when he ventures into the midfield and if a defender misses him, he'll go the distance. That's a huge asset for Fittler.
Likewise watch for Trbojevic to get in field and work in combination with brother Jake.
Jake's clever little inside balls to Tom will be a nice weapon for the Blues as they work their way out of trouble.
Michael Morgan and Tyrone Peachey, who will have the bigger impact?
I expect Morgan to come on to play halfback, with Ben Hunt moving into a dummy-half role.
Morgan hasn't enjoyed a great season so far, but he's an incredibly dangerous runner of the football and his combination with Munster and Slater poses a massive threat.
I'm looking forward to watching Peachey in action at this level.
If New South Wales enjoy forward dominance, Peachey playing through the middle of the field will terrorise the Maroons' big men.
It doesn't matter where Fittler plays Peachey, so long as the ball's consistently in his hands.
New South Wales by 12
Man of the match: Damien Cook