Where Origin will be won and lost
TWO of our rugby league experts, Nick Walshaw and Matt Logue, have hashed out where Origin I will be won and lost, the key players from both sides and who will enter themselves into Origin legend.
Nick Walshaw: So Matthew, I hear you're suggesting Queensland will win Origin tonight. I can only assume you've been on the cans with the 'Coach Whisperer'?
Matt Logue: My old man back home in Dubbo has officially disowned me but, yes, I'm going with instinct and tipping Queensland in Origin I. And why you ask? Well, I'll give you three names: Kalyn Ponga, Cameron Munster and Michael Morgan.
NW: Um, I only asked if you'd been boozing with Bradley Charles Stubbs - that contentious Queensland mind guru who, back in 2014, also promised to severe a pinky finger if South Sydney didn't win the premiership following his involvement. And just on that, I'm wondering if he's promised the same to Kevvie Walters? I'm also wondering why you don't have more confidence in the Blues?
MAROONS LEFT EDGE
ML: There's a reason Blues coach Brad Fittler has been suffering nightmares about the Maroons left edge attack, particular Ponga and Munster.
I think they can really get the better of NSW on a side where Josh Morris isn't getting any younger, Tyson Frizell has battled injury and a question mark hangs over debutant winger Nick Cotric.
Don't get me wrong, the young Raider is a gun in attack but I wonder how he'll handle the bright lights of Suncorp Stadium.
NW: C'mon Matty, young footballers don't stress about anything anymore, including Origin. And I have liver complaints older than Cotric.
Besides, he's got J-Moz inside him, the man who famously kept even Greg Inglis - aka the most prolific tryscorer in Origin history - to just four tries in 13 appearances.
So his age, and time out of the Origin arena, it won't be an issue. Same deal the troublesome lead-up for Frizell, who defends like Johnny Cochran. We're sweet.
ML: Sweet? Only a fortnight ago, Frizell admitted he couldn't stop Ponga during St George Illawarra's loss to Newcastle. What will be different tonight?
NW: Ponga, undoubtedly, looks set to become the best player in the game. But James Tedesco is the best player right now not named Cameron Smith. And his relationship with Blues No. 9 Damien Cook, deadly.
ML: OK, you dodged my question about stopping Ponga but let's get to the other key reason Queensland will cause a boilover: Cameron Munster. The Storm sensation screams Origin player - tough, skilful and refuses to give in. Munster has a significant edge over Blues rookie Cody Walker.
NW: Mate, the only thing Walker won't do tonight is sing Advance Australia Fair. In Origin, the biggest moments are so often based on instinct - the same trait that sees this Souths livewire lead the NRL in both tries and try involvements. He'll also be attacking down a left edge boasting Latrell Mitchell, Josh Addo-Carr and Tedesco. That's scary good.
ML: Agree. And even with all that, I'm saying Munster has the edge. I'm not questioning Walker's ability but Origin isn't the NRL. The pressure to perform lifts tenfold and I think Queensland can expose the Blues No. 6 on debut, especially in defence. Then there's Nathan Cleary …
NW: He's an Origin series winner.
ML: Cleary is struggling big time at Penrith and I just can't see him rediscovering form overnight. He was also quiet last year, albeit in a winning side. Yet NSW now need more from him again to beat Queensland and I'm not sure he has the same running game as Queensland opposite, Daly Cherry-Evans.
NW: Cleary doesn't need to run as much as he needs to direct. With James Maloney gone, the Blues No. 7 must take on a far greater leadership role in attack while, once again, kicking long, tackling his clacker off and booting goals. Undoubtedly under more pressure than any other player. Overall, though, NSW still has the superior spine. And pack. And coach.
ML: Superior pack? That is a bit rich. I think Queensland's forwards are on par with the Blues. Mad man Josh McGuire is made for Origin and he'll take it to the world's nicest bloke in Jake Trbojevic. Josh Papalii is arguably a better player than Paul Vaughan while Gillett/Frizell, Kaufusi/Cordner and Arrow/Klemmer are closer in capabilities and impact than most people think.
NW: So you agree most people think NSW has the superior pack?
ML: The punters may but I don't. Despite bleeding Blue, I genuinely believe Queensland will go toe-to-toe with Fittler's big men. Take Jai Arrow, the man is the modern-day Trevor Gillmeister.
NW: Maybe, but Paul Vaughan is averaging more tackles and runs metres than ever before, Dave Klemmer leads the NRL for post-contact metres and Cook does the same for try assists. And that's just our front row.
ML: C'mon Nick, I've already told you - Origin footy isn't NRL. Forget about the stats. This is the best rugby league players on the planet going hard at each other for 80 minutes. When your lungs scream, it's that extra effort from deep inside that wins Origin. And Queensland ooze this trait.
NW: I thought you said it was Ponga and Munster winning it for them?
ML: Once they put on that Maroon jumper in front of 50,000-plus crazy Queenslanders, good luck stopping them.
NW: Willing to bet your pinky finger on it?
ML: Done. Pinky swear.