The National – Wednesday, June 15, 2011
BRISBANE: Queensland icon Mal Meninga says Ricky Stuart’s mobile army of backrowers will have to stop one of rugby league’s greatest forward packs to level the State of Origin series at a soggy ANZ Stadium tonight.
While Meninga distanced himself from claims by former captain Gorden Tallis that NSW had disrespected veteran prop Petero Civoniceva by going into Origin II with just two recognised front-rowers, he said he understood Stuart had hatched a game plan and was “thinking a little bit laterally”.
“They (NSW forwards) are all good players and regardless of what position they play, they’ve got a game plan and a strategy where they utilise all their backrowers against what I consider to be one of the best rugby league forward packs that has ever played the game, certainly at Origin level,” Meninga said.
“They know they’ve got to do something different.
“Ricky’s thinking a little bit laterally and I think it will add a lot of interest to the game tomorrow night.”
Given their record-breaking five straight series wins, including the last four games and five of their past six Origins at their one-time hoodoo ground, Meninga said his group of forwards had to sit highly among any pack he’d played with or coached in his glittering career.
“On the back of all our success they rate very highly, they’re right up there,” he said.
“It’s a very low maintenance forward pack who don’t get a lot of accolades publicly but internally they’re valuable.
“I know our key players, our 9-7-6 and 1 are very appreciative of their hard work.”
After Civoniceva, Matt Scott and Ben Hannant dominated the middle in game one, Queensland know exactly where the Blues are going to attack with their quicker, more mobile forwards.
“We’ve worked pretty hard on our middle defence and hopefully we’ll be good enough to counteract what they’re going to throw at us on the night,” Meninga said.
“Defensively is where you win these footy games and I know the middle of the field is going to be crucial tomorrow night.”
A lot has been made of the ruck speed in game one and the appointment of new referees Shayne Hayne and Ben Cummins to lift the tempo.
But Meninga was not buying into conspiracy theories that Stuart was tipped off to the referee swap and picked his mobile pack to take advantage of a directive from referee’s boss Bill Harrigan to speed things up.
“I don’t know where it’s all come from I thought the refs did a good job in the ruck area,” Meninga said.
“I thought our dominance in the ruck was exceptional, particularly early and I guess that’s where it’s come from.”
The wet ground reduces the chances of an expansive game and makes field position a major priority.
“Field position becomes pretty critical in the wet and I’m comfortable we have the players (Darren Lockyer, Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith) who can give us that,” Meninga said.
When told Stuart was not feeling any pressure, Meninga said: “it’s good he’s thinking like that.”
“But they have to win, it’s not like they can just go out there and play well.
“They have to go out and win this game and we’re ready for that.” – AAP