New South Wales may have won only one State of Origin series since 2005 but will blow Queensland “off the park” this year, according to Blues great Ben Elias.
Coach Brad Fittler named an almost new backline on Monday night for the June 6 series opener at the MCG, with the likes of Nathan Cleary, Josh Addo-Carr, James Roberts and Latrell Mitchell selected.
There’s a new-look front row for the Blues, too, with Paul Vaughan, Damien Cook and Reagan Campbell-Gillard winning call-ups, and it is this exciting blend of speed and talent that has Elias so confident of victory.
“We could have picked two State of Origin sides that could beat this mob this time round,” Elias told The New Daily.
“We’ve got a glut of talent that is in form. That’s the beauty of this side.
“This is the side that will blow them off the park.”
In Addo-Carr, Roberts and Mitchell, the Blues have three of the quickest men in the NRL, something that could give NSW an edge.
“It is a very fast side,” Elias said.
“Any of the players on the field can create or make a try anywhere on the paddock.”
Picking a record 11 debutants could be a concern, given the step up in intensity at Origin level.
Only captain Boyd Cordner, Tyson Frizell, James Tedesco, James Maloney and Jake Trbojevic remain from game three last year.
But Elias, a former NSW captain, is tipping the new brigade will thrive against a tired-looking Queensland.
“They’re the same tired old mob, who play the same old song,” he said.
“They couldn’t pick a side to compete with [NSW]. There’s no excuse from here.”
The Maroon view
South Sydney’s Greg Inglis will captain an experienced Queensland side aiming for a fourth straight series win.
Coach Kevin Walters, who named his side on Monday morning, had to change his plans after the sudden representative retirement of captain Cameron Smith two weeks ago.
Brisbane hooker Andrew McCullough replaces Smith, while Melbourne five-eighth Cameron Munster and St George Illawarra’s Ben Hunt are the new halves pairing, after Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk retired from Origin last year.
Ex-Queensland fullback Gary Belcher thinks the new-look six and seven could complement each other well.
“They are very different players. That’s a good thing,” Belcher told The New Daily.
“Ben Hunt’s there to steer the team around, and Cameron Munster needs to be free to have a run. If he’s not running, he’s not playing his natural game.
“I’m happy with the side. There’s no one I wouldn’t be picking, although there were a couple of tough omissions, given what Darius Boyd and Matty Scott have done [in the Origin arena].”
Belcher also thinks Inglis’s appointment as skipper was a natural fit, comparing his leadership to ex-Queensland great Mal Meninga.
“He has a similar standing in the game that Mal had when I was playing,” Belcher said.
“He’s a similar guy – a man of few words – but when’s got an opinion, everyone will sit up and take notice.
“He’s really looked up to by the guys.”
Queensland selectors decided not to draft in exciting Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga, instead sticking with Melbourne’s Billy Slater.
The omission of 22-game veteran Matt Scott was a surprise, as was the decision to leave out Manly skipper Daly Cherry-Evans.
Maroons squad: Billy Slater, Valentine Holmes, Greg Inglis, Will Chambers, Dane Gagai, Cameron Munster, Ben Hunt, Dylan Napa, Andrew McCullough, Jarrod Wallace, Gavin Cooper, Felise Kaufusi, Josh McGuire, Michael Morgan, Coen Hess, Josh Papalii, Jai Arrow
Blues squad: James Tedesco, Josh Addo-Carr, Latrell Mitchell, James Roberts, Tom Trbojevic, James Maloney, Nathan Cleary, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Damien Cook, David Klemmer, Boyd Cordner, Tyson Frizell, Jack de Belin, Tyrone Peachey, Jake Trbojevic, Paul Vaughan, Angus Crichton