Origin old heads calm greenhorn Maroons

Ed Jackson
·3-min read

While Queensland's playing squad is one of their most inexperienced State of Origin lineups ever, there's no such concern among the Maroons coaching staff.

Queensland's 21-player squad for Wednesday's series opener against NSW in Adelaide contains 12 players who've never played Origin.

Across the squad there's a total of just 68 Origin appearances, with Josh Papalii's 15 games the most of any Maroon.

In the coaching box however are three men who have been there and won it all before at Origin level.

Starting his fourth stint at the helm of the Maroons, Wednesday's series opener will be Wayne Bennett's 23rd Origin as Queensland coach.

His assistant Mal Meninga played 33 Origins before coaching the Maroons a further 30 times while the final member of the coaching trio, Neil Henry, was Meninga's chief strategist from 2002-06.

Bennett and Meninga have a combined 14 State of Origin series wins as coaches.

It's that experience that has Maroons skipper Daly Cherry-Evans unconcerned about the lack of Origin appearances among his teammates.

"Really lucky with the coaching staff that we've got," Cherry-Evans said.

"It's certainly not their first camp when it comes to debuts and talking to inexperienced players or inexperience at Origin level.

"My job's just been to come in and be the halfback of Queensland. There's certainly parts of the job of being Queensland captain ... you might get around and have those conversations with your teammates, but those parts that you're talking about, about trying to calm someone's nerves, those things will just happen naturally in conversation.

"That's the best part about our camp, we've got so much experience at the top end to help everyone relax."

Nonetheless many have made Queensland massive underdogs against a NSW team chasing a three-peat of Origin series wins.

The situation has many harking back to the 1995 series when a Queensland team led by rookie coach Paul Vautin, and shorn of several key players due to the Super League war, were given next to no chance of beating the Blues.

Vautin however led his team, nicknamed "Fatty's Nevilles", to a 3-0 series sweep in one of Queensland's most famous wins.

Cherry-Evans' NRL club coach at Manly Des Hasler is renowned for relishing the underdog tag and it's an attitude that appears to have rubbed off on the halfback.

"That's the way you want it, right?," the Queensland No.7 said.

"Expectation can do some funny things sometimes in sports.

"We just need to keep our head down and keep working hard.

"We've got a lot of belief in the systems that we're applying at training. We've got a hell of a lot of belief in the squad that we've picked.

"That's the right recipe for a successful series."

The Maroons had a day off training on Monday, with their final session to be held on Tuesday before the team flies to South Australia.

Winger Xavier Coates is the only player under an injury cloud, with the 19-year-old to undergo scans on Monday on the shoulder he hurt in training on Sunday.

If the flyer is ruled out, Penrith's Kurt Capewell looms as the most likely replacement ahead of Gold Coast's Phillip Sami.