It’s been eight years in the making and the stage has been set for an historic Origin Game 2 at ANZ Stadium Wednesday night.
In recent years, the Queenslanders have never had such a turbulent lead up to a match, let alone from a position of 1-0 down in the series after their shock loss at Suncorp in Game 1.
The injury ward in the Queensland camp already includes halfback Cooper Cronk, with the likes of Inglis, Slater and Cherry-Evans also in doubt during preparation for Game 2, and Josh Papalii and Corey Parker ruled out early last week. But while NSW fans will feel as though a depleted Queensland is the perfect target for a ruthless Blues outfit to end an eight year drought, the Maroons will have other ideas.
It has been a rarity in the past eight years to footy fans to rate the Queensland side as underdogs going into an Origin match, and Head Coach Mal Meninga says this will only fuel the Maroons Origin tradition of finding a way to win in the face of adversity.
“It’s backs to the wall, but this will bring out of the best in people.” Meninga insisted.
“This is the test of our character and I know this team has character.”
Blues hard man Anthony Watmough is having none of that two-headed fairy-tale nonsense. The second-rower laid out the merciless approach his side is taking ahead of Game 2 when he invited the Maroons to target his injured bicep.
"I expect everyone and anyone to have a crack,” Watmough said.
“Maybe the trainer might run on and have a crack at some stage. I'm not hiding from the fact it's there. Come and get it, it's there for the taking.”
While the Queenslanders’ troubled lead up has been front and centre in the media, the Blues are fielding an understrength side as well, with makeshift edge, Will Hopoate and centre Josh Dugan coming in to replace the injured Morris brothers.
The zippy twins were tremendous in NSW’s herculean defensive effort in Game 1, and while their efforts were a big factor in the Blues' victory, there is an Eels player who's also key to the Blues’ fate: Jarryd Hayne.
The Parramatta fullback was at his electrifying best for the Blues in Game 1, and will have to be instrumental again if they are to seize the series in Game 2. League immortal and Blues legend Andrew Johns believes he can and will do just that.
‘‘Jarryd Hayne is the most complete player I’ve seen ... he’s got size, strength, vision ... he’s got everything,’’ Johns said.
“They talk about great Origin performances, well what we saw from Jarryd was that. It’s the same as what ‘The King’ did [in 1989] when Queensland all got injured. It was one of the great individual Origin performances and it won’t be forgotten.”
With the hype around Jarryd Hayne’s red-hot form and the Maroons injury list, it’s easy to forget that Rugby League heavyweights like Slater, Cherry-Evans, and Smith are still part of the Queensland backbone for Game 2.
But Blues half Josh Reynolds, still on a high after his debut win, is not daunted. In fact, he believes Jarryd Hayne is yet to peak.
"If anything he can go more. He is one of those players that you don’t know how far they can go. He is a special player," Reynolds said.
The Daoudster predicts Hayne to fire again, Hodkinson’s kicking game to drown the Queenslanders out of the match, and NSW to beat Queensland 18-10.