Fuse leading to kick-off of the 2013 State of Origin series is nearing its end.
New South Wales will be bidding to prevent Test-strength Queensland from winning an unprecedented eighth Australian State of Origin rugby league series in Wednesday’s opening game in Sydney.
The Maroons, under the coaching of Mal Meninga, have not lost an interstate series against the Blues since 2005 and are again favourites to extend their dominance.
In the last seven seasons Queensland have won 15 encounters against NSW’s six victories, but the Blues believe they are closing the gap.
Meninga has more wins for Queensland than his legendary coaching predecessors Arthur Beetson and Wayne Bennett, both with 11 wins.
Last year’s series was only decided by a long-range drop goal from Test scrum-half Cooper Cronk with five minutes left in the deciding game, handing Queensland a 21-20 victory in Brisbane.
The series loss cost Ricky Stuart the NSW coaching job and this season former Test back Laurie Daley will get his chance to end Queensland’s series run.
”In however many years’ time, (Queensland) are always going to be spoken about, what they’ve done,” NSW skipper Paul Gallen said.
”We can’t change that. But to be the team to stop it, and be remembered as that team, would be a pretty big thing.”
Scrum-half Mitchell Pearce said his teammates were far from daunted by the prospect of ending the record, and excited to be given the opportunity to do so.
”I wouldn’t say it’s daunting, it’s exciting. I know we can do the job. We’ve lost the last two series in five-minute periods,” Pearce said.
“People said it was this part of it and that part of it, but it was down to five minutes. That’s not brushing over areas where we need to be better, but that just shows how close it was.”
Queensland will field a Test-strength backline featuring National Rugby League superstars Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, Justin Hodges, Jonathan Thurston and Cronk.
Test winger Darius Boyd, who has scored nine tries in 15 Origin appearances, has been in doubt since injuring his left ankle playing for his NRL club Newcastle, but is expected to play in the opening game.
“I think the key was for me to train properly with the team on Sunday. l did that and I think it’s all good to go,” Boyd told reporters.
It will be imperative for NSW’s series chances to get away with a morale-boosting victory before their own supporters at Sydney’s Olympic stadium this week.
“We have played big games at the Olympic stadium before but the fact is NSW have had the wood on us there for the past few years,” Meninga said.
“Getting a one-nil lead heading back home would be enormous for us, and it’s a massive challenge for us to come down and win away from home in NSW conditions.
“We believe there is a very specific way in which to go about things when you are playing in Sydney. We have worked all week on getting that right. Now the challenge is going out there and putting those plans into practice.”
The second game of the series is in Brisbane on June 26 with the final match in Sydney on July 17.