Baby Blues Chasing Third Straight Win
NSW U20s v Queensland U20s
Saturday, May 3, 5:30pm (AEST)
It's the kind of stuff their first-grade counterparts read about in Origin folklore.
New South Wales' Blues-in-waiting have put together back-to-back wins in the Under 20s State of Origin, enough to boast of consecutive series victories.
Granted, the two sides have only played the two games since their inception in 2012, but that doesn't take away from the fact that the men's Origin team would dearly love to mirror the success of their youth brigade in 2014.
Yet here we are, Dean Pay's side aiming for a third straight "sweep" of Queensland's kids, and growing a streak to rival that of their older interstate opponents on home turf.
NRL drawcards Clinton Gutherson, Jake Mamo, Jake Trbojevic, Kaysa Pritchard and Pauli Pauli feature in this Samoa-Fiji curtrain-raiser, but crucially they will be without key men Luke Brooks and Alex Johnston, who were rudely pulled away on camp eve.
The biggest name of the clash however will be wearing maroon. Canberra superstar Anthony Milford was prominent in Samoa's run to the quarter-finals of the World Cup last November, but has now pledged his allegiance to Queensland. It is understood he is favourite to be named as 18th man for Game I in Brisbane on May 28.
Future Broncos teammate Corey Oates was also set to appear in the match, but was another to pull out during the week. Still, 12 players return from last year's clash – eight from Queensland and four from NSW.
Melbourne have the biggest representation between the teams with five, while Canberra, Brisbane and Parramatta have four each.
Watch Out NSW: Promising Sharks junior Valentine Holmes showed the rugby league world of his credentials as a future with a couple of eye-catching cameos during the NRL Auckland Nines in Auckland earlier this year. Blessed with the same kind of speed and fleet of foot that Rooster Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has captured the game's imagination with, Holmes is another standout flyer that will demand the Blues' respect on Saturday night.
Watch Out Queensland: Every team needs that one player who strikes fear into the opponents' eyes. And given Pauli Pauli's size, Queensland mightn't be able to see anyone else. The son of an amateur boxer stands at a towering 188 centimetres, weighs 105 kilograms and, as is the case with most of these kids, he's still growing. Used sparingly by coach Brad Arthur in his five NRL games so far this year, Pauli has already shown an ability to absorb contact and get an offload away, so imagine what he'd be like going from men to kids...
Plays To Watch: Queensland can go any number of ways, from the power of centre Brenko Lee, the agility of fullback Valentine Holmes, or the pure athleticism of John Folau. The Blues probably don't boast the same firepower out wide, but in hooker Kaysa Pritchard, they have a manipulator who can take full advantage of any lazy forwards around the ruck. This kid can change games.
Where It Will Be Won: As proven many times on the NRL level, the ability to maintain field position and possession is key in the pressure-cooker environment of representative football. But particularly on a battlefield where nerves separate the boys from men, the halves who can rise to the occasion and keep their team on the front foot will decide the game. Maroons pair Milford and Jaelen Feeney complement each other well, as do the Blues' makeshift halves pairing of Moses and Drew Hutchinson.
The History: Played 2; New South Wales 2, Queensland 0. The Blues won out in a close 18-14 affair in the inaugural clash in 2012. But it was a completely different story last season, when NSW recorded 24 unanswered points in the second half for a 36-12 win.
Match Officials: Referee – Chris Sutton; Touch Judges – Phil Henderson & Nick Morel
Televised: Live - FoxSports 1, 5.30pm (AEST)
The Way We See It: Despite the short history, the two games so far have been played at an Origin- like intensity and we expect nothing less on Saturday night. The Blues have the better resume, but there is some serious talent in the Queensland team. Tight games are decided by the classy ones, and the Maroons have a clear-cut one in Milford. Queensland by 7 points.