Starved of success for five years and with a new coach at the helm, New South Wales are possibly more fired up than ever to get one over on their great rivals.
Ricky Stuart has done much to attempt jolt the Blues out of their seemingly endless losing streak; the first full time Origin coach has opted not to stick with the tried and tested and has raised some eyebrows in the way he has approached the task.
To be fair to Soward, he deserves his chance on his form for St George alone, but that hasn’t quelled rumours that his team mates don’t think he’s up to the job. However Soward’s positional kicking and deft passing game could prove a valuable asset for the Blues.
Brett Morris is a potent attacking weapon and the selection of rangy Canberra fullback Josh Dugan and Newcastle wingman Akuila Uate will give the Blues plenty of power and pace behind. Mark Gasnier, although missing from the Origin arena for some time, is a proven talent on the big stage.
However, Stuart’s decision to include Penrith’s Michael Jennings has been the subject of much debate
After a magnificent season last year Jennings has yet cross the whitewash in 2011 and while much of that blame can be attributed to the Panthers’ poor start to the season, his lack of try-scoring form will be a concern at Origin level.
Up front is where New South Wales will have more parity. Props Kade Snowden, Tim Mannah and Trent Merrin will make inroads into the Queensland defence while second-rowers Beau Scott is part of a formidable Dragons unit and Greg Bird can produce a miraculous offload when on-form.
Despite his fiery side, skipper Paul Gallen will lead from the front and won’t take a backward step in the heat of the battle.
Queensland should be massive underdogs when analysed on paper; they’re missing the likes of Greg Inglis, Justin Hodges and Brent Tate and players like Nate Myles and Sam Thaiday are out of form for their clubs.
Brisbane winger Jharal Yow Yeh, despite already being a capped test player, is a newcomer to the intensity of Origin and will need to find his feet.
However, when you consider this be Queensland legend Darren Lockyer’s last Origin series the Maroons have a huge motivational advantage.
Add to that the quality of established Origin performers Billy Slater, Jonathan Thurston and Cameron Smith to the mix and it’s hard to discount Queensland’s chances – especially when you consider the game is on home turf.
Matt Scott has been in superb form for North Queensland and although he’s no Greg Inglis, Melbourne’s Dane Nielsen is a player with plenty of potential
Queensland probably has the weaker interchange bench but have the adaptable Cooper Cronk to call upon should Lockyer or Thurston get injured.
Mal Meninga meanwhile has become a master at getting the best out of his players during the Origin rollercoaster and rarely makes the wrong calls.
Verdict: A much-improved New South Wales performance but ultimately a Queensland victory in their backyward.
Queensland: Billy Slater, Darius Boyd, Dane Nielsen, Willie Tonga, Jharal Yow Yeh, Darren Lockyer (c), Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott, Cameron Smith, Petero Civoniceva, Sam Thaiday, Ashley Harrison, Nate Myles
Interchange: Cooper Cronk, Corey Parker, Jacob Lillyman, Ben Hannant
New South Wales: Josh Dugan, Brett Morris, Michael Jennings, Mark Gasnier, Akuila Uate, Jamie Soward, Mitchell Pearce, Jason King, Michael Ennis, Kade Snowden, Beau Scott, Greg Bird, Paul Gallen (c)