They may no longer be champions but some things have not changed for Queensland ahead of Wednesday night’s State of Origin opener in Sydney.
Queensland captain Cameron Smith has predictably handed the “favourites” tag to NSW, saying his once all-conquering team faced one of its greatest challenges in Origin I.
Smith backed Greg Inglis (tonsillitis) and fellow star centre Justin Hodges (foot) to be at their best in the series opener after a disrupted Gold Coast camp.
And it seems they will need to be to counter a Blues outfit Smith believes will be hard to stop.
NSW have picked a monster pack and bulked up bench that weighs 43kg heavier than the Maroons.
Smith said it was vital they drew first blood against the defending champions in Sydney in their bid to reclaim the Origin trophy.
After having their record eight series winning-run snapped last year, Queensland are again sticking with what works, ensuring Smith embraced the underdog status on Monday.
That is despite Queensland (265 games total) boasting a stunning 160 games’ more Origin experience than NSW (105), averaging almost 16 matches a player to the Blues’ six.
“They are playing at home so they are favourites,” he said of NSW.
Smith said it would be “intimidating” playing at a noisy ANZ Stadium and lining up against a big Blues side determined to maintain their Origin hold.
“Game one is important especially with playing one game at a neutral territory this series,” he said.
“It is a big game for us playing in Sydney against a NSW team that is going to be very confident.
“It will be a big ask.
“Last year was very disappointing no doubt – it was a pretty shallow feeling.
“But this is a new series, we’ve got a couple of new players just as NSW.”
Smith said they would have no excuses despite Inglis having just one training session on Tuesday left before Origin I after spending three nights in hospital at their Gold Coast camp.
“He was pretty ordinary at the start of the week but Greg looked good as new yesterday,” he said.
“He has had a few days’ rest. He is going to be pretty fresh – there is not going to be any issues at all.”
Hodges, who turned 33 on Monday, has received the all clear after recovering from a bizarre bike crash at their Gold Coast camp.
“That was unfortunate after riding around in his thongs,” Smith smiled.
“But he trained yesterday and there were no issues – he moved quite well.”
Queensland have a day off on Monday.