Thurston to take centre stage
Ian Millward previews the opening game of the 2014 State Of Origin Series between Queensland and New South Wales.
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New South Wales have traditionally struggled at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, their last win there was in the dead rubber in the 2009 Series. I expect their woes on the road to continue on Wednesday.
Queensland have remarkably won the last eight Series - and they currently have a once-in-a-generation team. Just look at the spine of it. Billy Slater, Jonathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater. Throw in the best outside back in the world in Greg Inglis and it's no wonder the Maroons have dominated.
The Blues have run them close over the years but the Maroons always seem to find a way over the finishing line, to win the close games. It's down to continuity too. During the run of unparalleled success, Queensland have only had four combinations at half-back. New South Wales are approaching 15.
They try a new one again on Wednesday in Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson - will they finally crack this Queensland domination? I have my doubts. I'm worried too over the bench for the visitors; they have plenty of back-row forwards on it but are lacking in props for the battle down the middle. That's before you ask whether the new halves can step up.
With home advantage, a full house roaring them on and such a settled side I have to be with the home side to win and cover.
The total points line is set at 36.5 and I'm tempted to think we need to go over. There are tries in both sides and the weather forecast looks very settled.
I'm not surprised to see Inglis and Darius Boyd heading the first try-scorer market. They've scored more tries than any other centre-wing combination in Origin history. Take your pick...I'm with Boyd who hasn't been in great form for his club but should spark into life outside Inglis.
For New South Wales, Jarryd Hayne is always likely to cross and he looks a decent poke at 13/8 to score anytime.
As for man-of-the-match it has to be Thurston. He has a habit of picking up these accolades and he'll be a central figure in what I expect to be a Queensland win.
So can the Maroons make it nine Series on the bounce? Yes. Two home games in the series and a settled side, including so many fantastic players, means they're impossible to oppose.