NEW SOUTH WALES VS QUEENSLAND
Wednesday, May 28 Kick-Off: 8.05pm
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Referees: Shayne Hayne & Ben Cummins
Last Time They Met:
Queensland recorded a thrilling 12-10 victory over NSW in last year's decider at Sydney's ANZ Stadium. The Blues had their chances to win, but couldn't stop a strong Maroons team from surging to their eighth consecutive series victory.
NSW and Queensland has played 99 matches in Origin's inception in 1980.
The Maroons hold a significant edge having won 53 games to the Blues 44 wins, with 2 draws.
On the back of their eight-year dominance, Queensland also leads the way in overall series victories since 1982 with 18 wins to the Blues 12.
Origin history for Knights:
The Newcastle Knights have produced 27 Origin players, the equal fourth best record in the NRL competition.
Most of these players have been NSW players, including the last skipper to lead the Blues to a series win in 2005 in Danny Buderus.
The Knights have provided five Queensland representatives - Darius Boyd, Adrian Brunker, Michael Hagan, Mike McLean and Robbie O'Davis.
Other interesting stats:
*Boyd has scored more first-half tries than any other player in Origin history, with 9.
*Boyd also needs just one more try to become the second most prolific tryscorer in Origin history. He is level with Dale Shearer on 12 tries.
NEW SOUTH WALES
Hayne, B.Morris, J.Morris, Jennings, Tupou, Reynolds, Hodkinson, Woods, Farah, Tamou, Hoffman, Scott, Gallen. Interchange: Merrin, Watmough, Lewis, Williams.
Slater, Boyd, Inglis, Hodges, Tate, Thurston, Cronk, Scott, Smith, Myles, McQueen, Gillett, Parker. Interchange: Cherry-Evans, Te'o, Papalii, Guerra, Chambers, Friend.
When it comes to champion teams, it's hard to go past the mighty Queensland Maroons.
On the back of eight consecutive series victories, Mal Meninga's men can be considered amongst the most successful sporting teams in Australian history.
Led by influential skipper and future immortal Cameron Smith and backed up by the likes of Greg Inglis, Billy Slater and Johnathan Thurston, the Queenslanders boast more stars than a Hollywood blockbuster.
So how the hell does NSW end the Maroons' dominance?
Talk to Knights assistant coach Rick Stone and he believes the answer is simple.
Starve the Queenslanders of possession and make the most of your last tackle options.
"There are possibly weaknesses in Queensland if you can hold onto the ball long enough," Stone reasons.
"Maybe back through the middle against the Maroons forwards.
"It's never easy to crack defence in Origin, but quality last tackle plays can help.
"Those two areas will be very important for NSW."
There has been plenty said about the Blues debutant halves, Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson.
While both players have carved up the NRL ranks this season, Stone says they'll face a significant step up in class on the Origin stage.
"They are in good form and they've got a good combination, but it's a different environment in Origin and kicking games are really important," he explains.
"I think Hodkinson will under a fair bit of pressure there, because Reynolds is not the greatest kicker.
"So I think Queensland will come at him pretty hard, so the Blues will need a couple of variations around kicking the footy.
"Robbie Farah with the left foot will definitely be an option for the Blues and he probably balances things out a bit there.
"The halves have also got a big job to do defensively, regardless of what edge they play.
"It will be interesting to see how they go, but it will all start with how well the NSW pack performs."
Newcastle enforcer Beau Scott has been named to start in the back-row for the Blues and Stone is expecting the former Dragon and Shark to excel.
Scott will play a crucial role in defence as a body guard for halves Hodkinson and Reynolds, while he'll also have the job of trying to contain Queensland playmaker Johnathan Thurston.
"Beau's form has been great for us this year, both offensively and defensively," Stone enthuses.
"We all know how hard he competes in defence, but he has shown plenty of spark in attack. I think he is ranked in the top 10 in the offloads in the NRL this year.
"His line running has been pretty good and he is one player that I don't think I'd like to be playing against.
"So I don't think that the Queenslanders would be too happy to see Beau back in the NSW team."
Jarryd Hayne vs Billy Slater
This should be a blockbuster battle of heavyweight proportions.
Hayne, the Parramatta playmaker who has recaptured his brilliant best this year and seasoned Storm star Slater.
Both these players have the potential to win this match for their respective sides, but which bloke will come out on top?
Slater certainly has the runs on the board in recent years, however Hayne has the potential and form to dethrone Billy the Kid on the game's greatest stage at Suncorp.
Robbie Farah vs Cameron Smith
How does Farah stop Smith in his tracks? That's one of many questions heading into this Origin opener in Brisbane.
Smith has proven himself to be arguably the game's most influential player and a major reason why Queensland has dominated Origin for the past eight years.
The Storm skipper is creative out of dummy half, while he also possesses the smarts to control a game.
Farah is more than capable of competing with Smith, but will have to be at his probing best to get the job done for the Blues.
Josh Reynolds vs Johnathan Thurston
Talk about a classic veteran versus a rookie battle.
Thurston has won countless Origins for Queensland, while Reynolds is a fresh-faced rookie yet to grace league's greatest arena.
While JT holds the aces in the experience stakes, Reynolds is equally competitive and that should hold him in good stead for this match-up.
Where it will be won:
There's no questioning Queensland deserve favouritism, especially on home turf at Suncorp Stadium.
The Maroons have won five of the past six matches at the refurbished Lang Park dating back to 2009.
Throw in the fact the Blues haven't won a series for eight long years and it's easy to see why the Queenslanders will start favourites.
In saying this, the New South Welshmen have nothing to lose and should go in confident given they've picked a side based on form.
If the Blues can make the most of their chances and limit Queensland's strike, then they are more than capable of winning this one.
So the stage is set for a classic Origin battle. Bring it on.