Beware the rag tags
WHEN I am asked to tip a score in a State of Origin match my mind wanders back to 1995, and a coporate function in Brisbane at which I was a guest speaker. It was the year no Super League-signed players were selected, which meant no Broncos, Raiders or Cowboys.
Queensland picked what could only be described as a rag tag team, coached by novice Fatty Vautin. Only five players from the previous year were eligible and rookie Ben Ikin was such a selection bombshell that Fatty initially barred him from the team room, thinking he was an autograph hunter.
When asked at the corporate function what I thought the result would be, I said Queensland would be smashed by 40 points. History tells us the Maroons won that match 2-nil, and went on to sweep the series in the biggest upset in Origin history.
Coached by Phil Gould, the Blues fielded rugby league luminaries of the ilk of Brad Fittler, Andrew Johns, Steve Menzies, Paul Harragon, Geoff Toovey and Terry Hill. But they scored just 28 points in the series.
With no disrespect intended, Queensland rode home on the back of nine debutants, including little-knowns Danny Moore, Tony Hearn, Terry Cook and Craig Teevan. My reputation as a footy judge took a well-deserved hammering that night and since then I have been more judicious with my predictions.
Having said that, I look at the two line-ups for the Origin opener in Melbourne on Wednesday night and honestly can't see how the Blues can win. My grey matter is not what it once was, but in 32 years of watching Origin I'm finding it difficult to recall a better-balanced team with as much strike power as this Queensland 17.
Sure there's no Darren Lockyer, but has Johnathan Thurston been in better form? And what about Greg Inglis, Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, Sam Thaiday, Ben Hannant and Dave Taylor? Even debutant Matt Gillett has been playing out of his skin.
The Blues have again abandoned their pick-and-stick policy. Only eight players remain from game three last year and Ricky Stuart has put his faith in a reformed bad boy (Todd Carney), a turncoat Kiwi (James Tamou) a debutant who has not played for eight weeks (Tony Williams), a hooker he never wanted (Robbie Farah) and a centre who last week played reserve grade for his club (Michael Jennings).
On that evidence alone, the Blues could well be described as a rag tag team, and on paper clearly inferior to the Maroons. On Wednesday night they should be hammered. But that's what I thought about Queensland in 1995.