The intense build-up to Origin 1 is always the most exciting as the hopes and aspirations of the fans from NSW and QLD start to crank up.
Both States have announced their best teams – which features a total of 14 rookies – as they enter the game’s biggest showpiece in Melbourne on Wednesday night.
The Blues coach Freddy Fittler has adopted a bold plan by picking a young team that he believes can lead NSW into a new frontier.
As predicted, he has a put a line through a number of players who he felt had not performed to the standards that are expected at this level.
Freddy’s approach reminds me of the direction Mal Meninga took back in 2006 when he introduced eight newcomers to the QLD team, including the likes of Darius Boyd, Greg Inglis, Nate Myles, Sam Thaiday and Matt Scott who have all gone on to play nearly 30 or more games each over the last 12 years.
Coincidentally, GI is the last man standing of this group – and has been named captain to lead his beloved Maroons into battle as he approaches the end of his illustrious career.
And another long-standing champion Billy Slater, who plays his 30th game, has announced his retirement from rep football after this series as well.
Much like Mal, Freddy has achieved so much in the game as a player (most capped for NSW with 31 appearances/ 38 games for the Kangaroos) and has a great understanding of what is required at this level to get the best out of his players.
And he has also recognised the need to put a lot of good people around the team to assist him – including Greg Alexander, Danny Buderus and Paul Sironen who are all very experienced in the Origin arena.
He has also challenged two of his most senior players, prior to Origin, including James Maloney and Boyd Cordner, to ensure they arrived in camp in good form and with a positive mind set.
I can recall Mal demanding more from the likes of veterans Steve Price, Petero Civinoceva and Darren Lockyer after Game 1 of the 2006 series – and making them fully aware of their roles and responsibilities if they expected to be part of the team going forward.
You can only assume Freddy is taking a long-term approach to the success of the team and he will have to work overtime this week to get so many rookies on the same page in a short preparation.
I am guessing they will adopt a very simple game plan because game 1 is normally a bit disjointed for both teams as they start to get back into the faster and more physical nature of Origin, compared to the speed of NRL games.
A couple of things working in his favour is the combination of James Maloney and Nathan Cleary in the halves along with James Tedesco at fullback who has been there for five games now.
They also have the advantage of some strong relationships between players who have been part of the successful Kangaroos team of the last 12 months including Tom and Jake Trbojevic, Regan Campbell Gillard, Maloney, Tyson Frizelle and Cordner.
The biggest challenge that NSW will face is the lack of understanding of defence in the outside backs – who are up against a very formidable backline from QLD, which is unchanged apart from Ben Hunt at halfback.
The middle third of NSW and their edge back rowers will have a big job to do in limiting the go-forward by the QLD and not allowing their backs too much time and space to put their plays on.
Of course, I am reticent to tip against QLD in game 1 – but I am anticipating one of the closest Origin series in a long time.
Who will ever forget the final pass that Brett Hodgson threw in the final moments of Game 3 2006 in Melbourne – when Darren Lockyer swooped on the ball and scored - to give QLD their first series win in four years.
Cowboys, Eels, Sharks, Roosters.