Where Origin I will be won and lost
AMID the chaos in Camp Maroon yesterday, Kevin Walters flashed a wry grin.
This is the way Queensland like it. Backs to the wall. Underdogs. Written off by the bookies.
Facing the media yesterday after being accused of lying over Billy Slater's injury saga, Walters admitted this has been Queensland's most tumultuous preparation since he took charge of the Maroons in 2016.
But this adversity goes beyond Walters' regime. No Thurston. No Smith. No Cronk. No Gillett. No Slater.
Since Queensland's record-breaking dynasty began in 2006, no Maroons side of the past decade has faced the series of ructions that are testing the character and soul of Kevvie's class of 2018.
As Brad Fittler's rebuilt Blues smell Queensland blood in the water, here are the five areas that can inspire a Maroon boilover in Origin I tonight at the MCG.
1. SPEED KILLS
NSW coach Brad Fittler made a brilliant point at the official press conference on Monday when he said speed rarely wins Origin games. The Blues have picked the fastest backline in Origin history but their perceived strength can be their glaring weakness.
Blues threequarters James Roberts, Josh Addo-Carr, Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic have missed 53 tackles between them in the NRL this season. Mitchell alone has missed 17. Between them, they boast ZERO Origin games. Mitchell and Roberts have both been guilty of poor defensive reads this season when they are forced to make quick decisions under pressure from up-tempo attacking shapes.
There is no sadder sight than Greg Inglis being wasted in a big game. Queensland coach Kevin Walters should give five-eighth Cameron Munster a simple message - get clean ball to Inglis. The Queensland skipper is the greatest tryscorer in Origin history with 18 from 30 games. Inglis can expose Roberts.
2. DYLAN THE DESTROYER
MAROONS enforcer Dylan Napa has to dominate Blues monster Reagan Campbell-Gillard. The 115kg RCG has already talked the talk and the pressure is now on him to walk the walk and lead the Blues to victory.
Every great Origin side has an irresistible front-row presence and Napa is the man with the size, part-aggression and part-madness to relish a one-on-one engine-room scrap with Campbell-Gillard.
Napa has amassed more than 100 metres in a game just twice this season. A 95-metre effort from Napa won't win an Origin game.
For the Maroons to combat a RCG-inspired Blues pack, Napa must replicate the 163 metres he compiled against the Bulldogs in round two.
3. MAGIC MIKE
MICHAEL Morgan has to bury his patchy club form for the Cowboys. He needs the game of his life for Queensland.
Billy Slater's withdrawal robs the Maroons of experience and attacking spark, but his importance to the Maroons goes deeper than that. It is his fitness, off-the-ball work and support play running off second phase. It is his relentless behind-the-line communication that helps reset Queensland's defensive line and plug the potential gaps waiting for exploitation.
Morgan has lacked energy at club level this season but at his optimum, he has the speed and vision to dismantle the Blues. Seven of his eight games for the Maroons have been off the bench. This is the first time he will be part of Queensland's playmaking spine.
4. MAC ATTACK
RUCK speed is everything in rugby league and if the Maroons don't keep the middle-third tight, Blues hooker Damien Cook will tear them apart.
GPS data shows Cook is the third-fastest man on the park tonight in Origin I, with the South Sydney hooker's top-end speed clocked at 35.3km/h. Only Josh Addo-Carr and James Roberts are faster.
If the Maroons are sloppy at marker and allow the Blues to dictate terms in midfield, Cook will have the latitude to run riot and ignite the NSW backline.
Maroons debutant Andrew McCullough must be the centrepiece of Queensland's ruck control.
What he lacks in Cameron Smith's ice-cool game management he can compensate with his work ethic and defensive aptitude around the rucks. He needs to nullify Cook's incursions.
5. BENCH WARFARE
MAROONS hitman Josh Papalii is a 110kg brute who should be cutting blokes in half at Origin level.
Largely, Papalii has been a passenger at Origin level and he admitted as much during the week.
Papalii's hitting power is the closest thing to former Broncos and Maroons enforcer Tonie Carroll and Walters needs Papalii to be the spiritual leader of a Queensland bench that has to lift the tempo after the opening quarter.
If Papalii, Coen Hess and Jai Arrow fail to provide punch off the bench, NSW's interchange rotation will give rookie halfback Nathan Clearly the space to engineer a Blues victory.