Opening 30 minutes will determine if it’s back to future for Qld or dawning of new Blues era

BACK to the scene where it all began.

On the night of July 5, 2006, at the Telstradome – now Etihad Stadium – in Melbourne, Queensland skipper Darren Lockyer swooped on a wayward pass to score the winning try.

Those points not only won the Maroons the game, but also the series. Since then they have dominated proceedings by taking out 11 of the past 15 encounters.

It actually doesn’t seem that long ago that statistically NSW and Queensland were on level pegging.

The ledger now reads Queensland 49 wins and 16 series successes to NSW’s 42 and 12. I guess six straight series triumphs will upset that equilibrium.

Tonight the northerners begin their campaign for a seventh and go in as very firm favourites to do so.

To put their ongoing success into perspective, neither state up until ’06 had won more than three series in a row. In fact, both had put together such a sequence on two occasions.

The current squad has triggered the inevitable comparisons that happen in every sport as to how they rank in relation to past great Origin teams that have worn the same jersey.

While such pursuits are always pretty pointless and unnecessary, they are harmless talking points and ultimately a source of compliment.

I admit that I was interested to hear Wayne Bennett at the recent Ron Massey tribute luncheon answer, when asked, that he could not rate this Queensland outfit any higher than those wonderful teams of the late 1980s.

If anyone has a relevant opinion it is surely him.

When such discussions take place between now and then, there is invariably a reference to the ‘‘big four’’ of both eras.

In looking back to the ’80s it is generally regarded to have consisted of Wally Lewis, Allan Langer, Mal Meninga and Gene Miles.

These greats of the game racked up an impressive 117 Origins between them, and I must admit that my memory was of them being the constant source of disappointment for the Blues at that time.

On closer examination I was surprised to learn that this quartet were only ever on the field at the same time at this level on just two occasions – 1989 – and Gene Miles played second row.

The input of the likes of Tony Currie, Peter Jackson and Mark Murray in their positions was too easily overlooked and was particularly significant.

This current squad has actually enjoyed much more constant involvement at the same time from their four of Darren Lockyer, Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater.

They combined in eight of the past nine matches and were major contributors to the seven victories attained, and while Lockyer will no doubt be missed, the transition to Cooper Cronk will be seamless. He will be helped by the experience of Thurston, who has played the past 21 games in a row, and Smith, who has missed just one of the past 25.

The greatest indication of the consistency enjoyed by the Maroons is that from the successful 2006 squad there will be nine players who run out again to represent tonight.

The only NSW man to do so will be Paul Gallen, who coincidentally made his debut in that fateful final match in Melbourne.

Heck, the Blues don’t even have nine backing up from their last game.

That sounds a bit harsh because Ricky Stuart has pushed both loyalty and incumbency since taking over the reins last year, and while there are a number again on debut, the likes of Josh Morris and Brett Stewart have been recalled after being there before.

Ricky has also altered the selection criteria by putting together a group of players he believes have the capacity to outscore an opposition that boasts their own enormous scoring potential.

He has pointed out that if he stuck to the same criteria it would yield the same outcome, and that the definition of lunacy is continually doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

It is sound logic but the Catch 22 is that unless the team is also capable of defending those extra points that are expected on the scoreboard then Queensland will again win.

The Blues are relying tonight on a relatively smaller forward component that are mobile and capable of playing a lot of minutes.

The Maroons have their usual men mountain who know only one direction – and that is straight and hard. I believe it will again be the opening 30 minutes that determines the difference between success and failure.

If Queensland establish a roll on and gain the upper hand they have continually shown they are almost impossible to run down. They have led at half-time in the last six games and only failed to protect the lead once.

If NSW can stay with them and start running their bigger opponents around then they have the capacity to run up enough points in the second 40 minutes and finish the stronger.

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