The Queensland Maroons will be gunning for a ninth consecutive State of Origin Series win, an astonishing run of success. But count on hated rival New South Wales Blues doing all they can to prevent it.
Predictably, the tensions between these two bitter foes have been more than simmering in the last few weeks. Maroons skipper Cameron Smith said that "hate for NSW hasn't gone out the window," per Phil Lutton of the Brisbane Times, (via The Sydney Morning Herald).
Meanwhile, former NSWRFL Premiership coach, and current columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald, Roy Masters, has accused the Queenslanders of using "history to suit themselves," per the Brisbane Times.
One of Rugby League's classic rivalries is certainly well stoked ahead of series play. The series begins on Wednesday, with Brisbane the venue for its first game.
Here are the complete fixtures, dates and times for the 2014 State of Origin Series:
|Wed, 28 May||Queensland Maroons||NSW Blues||8:00 p.m. AEST 11:00 a.m. BST||Suncorp Stadium|
|Wed, 18 June||NSW Blues||Queensland Maroons||8:00 p.m. AEST 11:00 a.m. BST||ANZ Stadium|
|Wed, 9 July||Queensland Maroons||NSW Blues||8:00 p.m. AEST 11:00 a.m. BST||Suncorp Stadium|
As if their recent run of dominance wasn't enough, having the benefit of playing twice on home soil has to make Queensland the favorites. In fact, it would take a brave person to believe the Maroons won't have the series sewn up before July 9, making the second meeting at Suncorp Stadium a dead rubber.
Here are three predictions for how the series will unfold, including the predicted winner.
The Blues' Ageing Forward Line Will Fail to Break Down the Maroons
New South Wales just doesn't possess the speed and dynamism along its forward line to break down the Maroons. Part of the problem is a willingness to trust ageing bodies to navigate this series.
As NRL.com writer Tony Webeck pointed out, the Blues' forwards are defined by having to look back on their primes, rather than anticipating them:
There are six players in the NSW forward rotation 30 years of age or older, including the team's spiritual leaders in Paul Gallen and Robbie Farah. Beau Scott has earned a recall for the first time since Game Three, 2012 while Ryan Hoffman retains the position he held last year, seven years after making his Origin debut.
Although still highly accomplished first-graders it's hard to believe that Anthony Watmough's or Luke Lewis's best days are ahead of them so the question deserves to be asked as to whether they are the right men to relaunch a new Blues dynasty or simply the men for right now.
The problem with trusting veteran savvy is that the Blues face a Maroons squad that has seen it all before in State of Origin play. As Webeck highlighted: "Origin experience weighs heavily in Queensland's favour to the tune of 233 games to 124."
So leaning on experience is doing the Blues no favours in this series. What New South Wales really needs is some pace to counter the athleticism of Queensland stalwarts such as halves Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston.
Planned Aerial Assault Won't Work for New South Wales
It seems the Blues are determined to unnerve the Maroons. Rather than adopting a methodical approach and recycling the ball, New South Wales will take to the air.
NSW have pinpointed the bomb as their attacking weapon in a bid to rattle the Maroons. Debutant winger Daniel Tupou looms as an obvious target on the Blues' left wing, having swung matches for his club side the Sydney Roosters by soaring high into the air, including terrorising opposite David Williams in last year’s grand final.
In part, Tupou was picked because of his reach, while fellow winger Brett Morris and fullback Jarryd Hayne are among the most-noted leapers in the the NRL. Tupou stands at 195 centimetres, while his opposite Brent Tate is 10 centimetres shorter. Tate, Darius Boyd (185cm) and Billy Slater (178cm) make up one of the smallest back threes in Origin history.
Tupou can certainly cause any team problems in the air. But the Maroons will survive the bombardment, thanks to a stronger than expected performance from their back three.
Full-back Billy Slater and wing Darius Boyd are a smart and solid pairing. The duo perhaps won't even waste time getting into a jumping contest with Tupou.
They can defend space and make sure the Blues don't make ground even after winning the first ball. If their aerial outlet doesn't yield results, a plodding New South Wales team won't be able to exploit spaces when keeping the ball on the ground.
Predicted Series Winner: Queensland Maroons
It will be nine in a row for Queensland. The Maroons have better athletes and greater speed at every level of the team.
The Blues will put up a strong fight, but their lack of dynamism will prove their ultimate undoing.