The 2016 State of Origin series presents a intriguing tale about legacies and contrasting motivation as Paul Gallen departs and Kevin Walters starts.
For all that Gallen has put into Origin, the NSW skipper has received little in return. From 21 games over 10 years, he’s enjoyed just one series win against the mighty Maroons outfit.
But it’s the 2016 series, starting on Wednesday at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium, that will decide how he is remembered.
Lose and he will be the man who played in a record 10 Origin series losses.
Win the series and he will be the man who produced a winning, or drawn, record as captain against a team widely considered the greatest in history.
It’s seldom appreciated that Gallen boasts a highly creditable 6-7 record as Blues skipper in his long-term reign since 2011.
A dominating personality, Gallen polarises opinion and he even had Blues great Peter Sterling calling for his omission this year.
But it’s significant that teammates appreciate what he brings to the Origin battlefield and are further motivated to ensure he’s remembered for success.
“He cops a lot of criticism Gal, but none of that comes from the blokes who have played alongside him,” says longtime Blues teammate Greg Bird.
“He is always a bloke you want to play with because you know he is going to give everything he has got for the team.”
“We started first grade together at Cronulla and came through the rep scene together … it’d definitely be great to send him out on top.”
For new Queensland coach Walters, motivation comes from a very different source.
Walters is tasked with continuing Queensland’s incredible run of success – nine series wins from the last 10 – achieved under predecessor Mal Meninga, with a great, but ageing, team.
Walters, who wasn’t the first-choice for the Maroons top job, is the person under most pressure in the Maroons setup and a fear of decline is what gets him going.
“Some would see it as a no-win situation for me given the success Queensland had with Mal, but I’ll back myself,” says Walters.
“Queensland had a great run under Mal. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing with him and I’ve been working for 15 years to get this opportunity.
“There is fear with any big job, but the fear of failure is driving me.”
Little else has changed for Queensland despite the departure of Meninga to take up the national team coaching role.
Centre Justin O’Neill comes in to replace the retired Justin Hodges with Corey Oates the only other debutant, on the wing for the injured Will Chambers.
Queensland as ever rely on their veteran brains trust of captain Cameron Smith and superstar halves Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk to guide them.
In stark contrast is coach Laurie Daley’s NSW, with four new faces and their 19th halves combination over that 10-year period of Maroons dominance in Adam Reynolds and James Maloney.
After struggling for points last year, Daley has dumped Josh Morris, Will Hopoate, Mitchell Pearce, Trent Hodkinson, Beau Scott, Ryan Hoffman, Michael Ennis and Trent Merrin from the 17 who were trounced 52-6 in last season’s decider.
The inclusion of Matt Moylan at fullback and even the curious choice of Dylan Walker indicate Daley will look to play a more expansive game plan and rely less on containment.
To help out his backline, Daley has included five props in a bid to dominate up front and create opportunities.
“What we will do is try and win the battle in the middle,” says Daley.
“Anyone will tell you the forwards up front, they have to do the job and if they do the job, then you give yourself a chance to attack.
Josh Mansour joins Moylan, Walker and Reynolds as debutants.
South Sydney halfback Reynolds boasts the NRL’s best kicking game and knows he needs to bring that to Origin.
“Any time you can build pressure it adds to the end result,” he says.
“That’s what Queensland have done over the past few years and really bunkered down on the NSW tryline and made it really tough to get out of that end. We need to do that too.”
NSW: Matt Moylan, Josh Mansour, Michael Jennings, Josh Dugan, Blake Ferguson, James Maloney, Adam Reynolds, Aaron Woods, Robbie Farah, Paul Gallen (capt), Boyd Cordner, Josh Jackson, Greg Bird. interchange: James Tamou, David Klemmer, Dylan Walker, Andrew Fifita.
Qld: Darius Boyd, Corey Oates, Greg Inglis, Justin O’Neil, Dane Gagai, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Matt Scott, Cameron Smith, Nate Myles, Matt Gillett, Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker. Interchange: Michael Morgan, Josh McGuire, Aidan Guerra, Josh Papalii.