State of Origin 2017 | NSW v QLD Live Blog, Kick Off Time NSW Blues team, squad, players
State of Origin 2017, NSW v QLD Live Blog, Kick Off Time NSW Blues team, squad, players From epic brawls to miraculous tries, Australia’s annual best-of-three rugby league series has offered some unforgettable moments over the years. We look at some of the most memorable ones from the popular tournament played between Queensland (the Maroons) and New South Wales (the Blues).
(Pictured) Maroons celebrate with the State of Origin trophy after winning the 2016 series.
The blind faith virus is breaking out again in New South Wales and Queensland. The peak season for this annual epidemic is the week before the first State of Origin encounter when no-one can imagine anything but victory for their state.
For 10 of the past 11 years Blues fans have had their expectations dashed. The absolute belief in their superiority has soured to sullen despair by series end, as Queenslanders wallowed in less than humble celebrations from 2006 to 2016, with one aberration in 2014.
With two of the three games to be played at Lang Park in Brisbane this year, will 2017 be any different?
Remarkably, as always, the Blues are slight favourites.
Is this the blind loyalty of fools or is there a reason for the Blues to believe this time?
The tectonic plates of favouritism shifted south of the border the moment Maroon star Jonathan Thurston was ruled out injured.
The irresistible JT has played in 36 consecutive Origin games, first as half-back to the peerless Darren Lockyer until 2011, then as five-eighth alongside the masterful Cooper Cronk, although Daly Cherry-Evans filled in at seven because of injury on two occasions.
With the champion trio at the helm in the decade of dominance, Queensland has 22 wins to the Blues’ 11.
There are numerous factors in the lopsided record but few would dispute that the quality of the Maroons halves has been decisive.
In modern rugby league, the half-back and five-eighth – or halves – are the key players.
They call the shots, direct the play, aim an array of kicks, seize opportunities, maintain control and keep the team on track.
Thurston so often the Blues’ nemesis
Five times Thurston has been man of the match in Origin clashes, a feat surpassed only by the ‘Emperor’ of Lang Park, Wally Lewis with eight awards.
In the present era, Cameron Smith has equalled Thurston’s five. Next best is Lockyer with three and Billy Slater with two. Together those four – hooker, half, five-eighth and full-back – constitute a so-called spine that a rugby league chiropractor would die for.
The Blues’ selectors have rummaged through a pile of five-eighths and half-backs, using 17 players in the halves in a vain search for success: Finch, Anasta, Gower, Mullen, Kimmorley, Bird, Wallace, Pearce, Campese, Barrett, Soward, Carney, Maloney, Josh and Adam Reynolds, Hodkinson and Moylan.
All were tried and then dumped.
Persevered with most often has been Mitchell Pearce. Mainly at half-back, he has figured in six losing Origin campaigns since 2008, playing 15 games for only four wins, to the extent Maroon fans cheer when he is picked.
Much maligned, Pearce also has his supporters. He missed the 2016 series after his well-publicised behaviour on Australia Day but has bounced back this year, steering the resurgent Roosters into the top four.
His impressive displays have a touch more control and maturity about them.
Pearce, now 28 years old, is still wide-eyed but a cooler, calmer head for winning the 2013 NRL grand final and taking the Roosters to the preliminary finals in the two seasons that followed. It did not help him in his last Origin appearance, though, when he went down with the Blues’ ship, sunk 52-6 in the 2015 decider in Brisbane.
Maloney the key to Pearce thriving in Origin cauldron
On Wednesday Pearce is reunited with James Maloney, his halves partner when the Roosters were crowing during those three years.
Maloney moved on to collect another premiership at Cronulla last year and has the Sharks again in the top four. His form earned him a Kangaroos jersey last year, albeit behind Cronk and Thurston in the pecking order.
The cheeky Maloney played in two losing series in 2013 and 2016, six games for two wins but he finished on top in Origin III last year, so he has got his tail up.