Much of the discussion in the build-up to State of Origin’s Game 2 has centred on Queensland’s debutants.
Valentine Holmes, Jarrod Wallace, Coen Hess and Tim Glasby will all get their first taste of Origin at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium on Wednesday evening, as Queensland look to bounce back from a 28-4 defeat they received in the series opener.
But Maroons great Kerrod Walters – twin brother of Queensland coach Kevin – has urged his former side to focus on two things to gain victory.
“If you took away [Andrew] Fifita and [James] Tedesco, it [game one] was a pretty even contest,” he told The New Daily.
“They’re the players that wreaked the most damage.
“Obviously they’ve got other very good players, but if we can control those two, it will be a level playing field.”
Walters also believes the reunion of Queensland’s match-winning spine quartet will negate any apparent experience advantage New South Wales has.
Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and returning duo Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater have played a staggering 123 Origin matches between them – and that should ensure a seamless transition for Queensland’s new brigade.
“The key thing is they’re playing with the greatest spine of all time, so that will help the young guys out,” he said.
“[The debutants] aren’t playing roles where they have to organise, which makes it easier – just run hard and tackle hard.”
Walters was one of five Maroons debutants in the 1989 series opener, but says the presence of seasoned campaigners such as Wally Lewis, Mal Meninga, Gene Miles and Allan Langer made his introduction to the Origin cauldron far less daunting.
“They just show you the way – you know you’re in good hands,” the ex-Queensland and Australian hooker said.
“The new guys just have to treat it like any other game.
“They’re going up against the same blokes they play in the NRL every week – they’re just wearing blue jerseys.”
The inclusion of Slater and Thurston – combining with Cronk and Smith in the 1, 6, 7 and 9 jumpers for the 10th time at Origin level – is widely viewed as Queensland’s trump card as they strive for a series-saving upset in Sydney.
“If we had new guys in those positions, I’d be more concerned,” he said.
“But they’ve performed many times for us. They’ll lead from the front as generals.”
History is against Queensland forcing a decider: only twice has a team levelled a series in enemy territory after dropping the first game at home.
But Walters has been in camp during the build-up to Game 2 and revealed the pressure of preventing just their second series defeat in the past 12 years – along with rumours Queensland will court legendary mentor Wayne Bennett if they surrender the crown – isn’t telling on his twin.
“Kevvie’s a pretty relaxed coach, as he was throughout his playing career,” he said.
“He said the guys have been training really well, the new guys have settled in and he’s pretty confident.
“You can never be too confident in Origin, but he’s happy with the preparation and how things have unfolded.
“Once the players take the field, there’s not too much the coach can do.
“The luxury Kevvie has is those four guys [Smith, Cronk, Thurston and Slater] steering the ship.
“I’d be pretty relaxed if I had them running things for me.”