State of Origin: Maroons move into enemy territory
Skipper Cameron Smith will bring his Maroon Marauders into enemy territory today as Queensland leave their Gold Coast base and head to Sydney to finalise preparations for Wednesday night's opening Origin clash at ANZ Stadium.
Both camps have experienced some dramas leading up to the clash.
Maroons No.7 Cooper Cronk is rated only a 50-50 chance of overcoming a sprained ankle which has required around-the-clock treatment while the Blues have already replaced gun centre centre Josh Dugan (elbow) with experienced Bulldog Josh Morris who is no stranger to the Origin arena.
Smith was due to face the media at Sanctuary this morning before the team flew to Sydney to set up camp at Parramatta -- a tradition they established during their record eight game streak from 2006 to 20013.
The Melbourne Storm, Queensland and Australian skipper will eclipse the record for the most Origins, 36 by former captain Darren Lockyer, when he steps out on Wednesday night.
The injury to Cronk, while disappointing, is not a major setback for Queensland.
Should the Storm half pull out on game day, coach Kevin Walters will slot North Queensland star Johnathan Thurston into halfback and bring his Cowboy's team-mate Michael Morgan off the bench.
"Reynolds is one of the best tactical kickers in the NRL and Maloney and Farah with his left boot give them a lot of options," said Thurston.
Because they play NRL every week together, combining to help North Queensland win its maiden premiership last October, Morgan delivering the pass in the final second for winger Kyle Feldt's try to send the grand final into extra time, and Thurston icing the historic field goal, they are a good fit.
NSW have come up with yet another new halves combination in a string of scrum-base partnerships in the past decade, with South Sydney's kicking wizard Adam Reynolds and Cronulla's James Maloney pulling on the 7-6 in the series' opener.
Both have been in good form for their NRL clubs, especially Maloney who is a tough competitor and an excellent goal kicker who is suited to Origin football.
Blues coach Laurie Daley has shown his hand with the size of his pack, especially his jumbo bench which consists of monsters James Tamou (114kgs), David Klemmer (120kgs) and Andrew Fafita (116kg) along with utility Dylan Walker who is their wildcard.
Bookmakers reported heavy backing for Queensland to win the game one and the series over the weekend although NSW, who expect a near full house on Wednesday night, remain $1.85 to go 1-0 up with the Maroons $2 but firming.
Surprisingly Brisbane Broncos debutant Corey Oates is the $9 to score the opening, possibly because he is playing outside Greg Inglis, Origin's leading try scorer with 17 to his name.
The weather in Sydney was fine early this morning but showers have been forecast for later in the day and again on Tuesday and Wednesday suggesting a slow to heavy track on game night which, if anything, would suit NSW.
Queensland have only won two of their past six Origins in Sydney and new coach Kevin Walters has spent the week impressing his views of what he wants from his players.
"They've certainly picked a very big bench to go with a big mobile forward pack and I believe that's where they will look to beat us and it is us to us to counteract that," said the 34 year-old Parker who will play his 15 Origin since 2004 on Wednesday night.
"It's a tough place to win, it's game one and they have a great side," said veteran lock Corey Parker who will renew his hostilities with Bulldogs forward David Klemmer following their running battle last year.
Parker said there was no feud between him and Klemmer despite a heated exchange of words between the pair.
"It's what you guys (media) do with it, we're fine."