The National, Wednesday, May 25, 2011
BRISBANE: The end of an era for Queensland, the beginning of one for NSW, but whether the Maroons’ unprecedented State of Origin dominance will change remains to be seen.
Motivation is never a problem for Queensland but Darren Lockyer’s farewell series is the kind of extra lift that can have a NSW coach wondering why they took the job.
Taking that job is Ricky Stuart, at the helm for the second time and the most recent successful Blues coach with victory in 2005, his only series so far.
He will attempt to drag the battered Blues off the canvas and avoid a demoralising sixth straight series loss, a feat bookmakers say is unlikely.
Lockyer will equal Maroons great Allan Langer’s record 34 Origin matches when he runs on to Suncorp Stadium tonight for game one, rewriting the record books yet again in his 13th series.
“We haven’t talked about it at all,” Queensland coach Mal Meninga said yesterday.
“I know it’s going to be in the back of everyone’s minds.
“Darren understands that he’s got a role to play and everybody else had got a role to play and we’re going to do it collectively.
“If in the end result we’re going to be successful then he gets to go out the way he deserves, a winner.”
The Maroons go in with chinks in their armour after losing injured Test centres Greg Inglis and Justin Hodges but still out-Origin their opponents to the tune of 19.3 games per player to the Blues’ 1.5.
Their spine of Billy Slater, Lockyer, Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith is among the greatest ever assembled and a pack that includes Petero Civoniceva, Sam Thaiday and Nate Myles would be fearsome enough if they weren’t all doing it for Lockyer. By contrast the Stuart era is beginning without promises but with possibly the best laid plans a Blues set-up has ever managed following a sweeping review of their operation last year.
Stuart has gone out of his way to remove the pressure form his Origin I players, who include five players on debut but do not include proven Origin performer Jarryd Hayne.
“I’m not looking at the scoreboard,” Stuart said.
“I’m just looking at what we actually deliver on the field and just hope that against this class team we’re punching our way through and I can evaluate and assess where we’re at after the game.
“Then I can answer some questions.
“We’re playing against probably the best Queensland team we’ve ever seen.
“We know the job we’re up against. It’s a monumental challenge.
“It doesn’t intimidate us but we know how good this football team is.”
Blues skipper Paul Gallen says there is no “fear factor”, but he is realistic about where NSW are at.
“NSW rugby league’s probably in a pretty bad state at the moment so there’s probably a bit of pressure on us,” he said.
“But we’re just going out there to play our game, that’s been the one big thing about this whole camp is we’re concerned about us and what we can do and we’re confident in our ability.”
Coming back from 1-0 down would look almost impossible for the inexperienced Blues but it’s something they can avoid with an inspired performance tonight. – AAP