Maroons coach Billy Slater has bristled at talk of his side going into Wednesday night's second State of Origin match as raging favourites, with the Queensland coach brutally shutting down questions from the media on Tuesday. Slater's men go into Game II at Suncorp Stadium as the bookies' favourites for the first time in an Origin game since the corresponding fixture in 2019.
Only the all-conquering Maroons side of 2010 - of which Slater featured alongside legends such as Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston - have gone into an Origin clash as shorter-priced favourites. When asked how it felt to be heading into Wednesday night's game in such a position - and with the chance of clinching the series - Slater was quick to downplay the favourites tag.
“I’m not allowed to bet,” Slater said. Honestly, I know there’s a bit of a myth around that, the Queensland underdogs.
“But I honestly couldn’t care less, I couldn’t care less who is favourite and who isn’t favourite and players in and players out. Both teams are very even in that regard, NSW have got injuries, players coming in and so do we. So we just have to do the best with the team we have got.”
The Blues go into the do-or-die clash knowing only a famous win is enough to keep the series - and in all likelihood the Origin coaching career of Brad Fittler - alive. History is firmly against Fittler's side with no Blues team ever winning Game II in Brisbane, before going on to win the series.
Fittler's men find themselves in that predicament after a disastrous final 10 minutes in Game I when - with an extra man on the field - they conceded two late tries to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Slater was quick to remind the Blues about their situation with a brutal response to a question on Tuesday about what it's like "chasing" in an Origin series.
Billy Slater's brutal barb for NSW
“We’re not 1-0 down,” Slater quipped. “My mindset is where my feet are and my feet aren’t there. So all my energy is focused towards our situation and our position and that’s where it is going.”
The Maroons' record at Suncorp Stadium is formidable, having won seven of their last nine games there, with just nine losses over the course of 32 Origin games played inside their home cauldron. Curiously though, the Queensland side has not won a Game II since 2017 - a statistic that means nothing to a bullish Slater.
“History is history, and it will be what it will be. But that’s not going to make us play any better or any worse,” the Maroons coach said. The Queensland great warned his players they had to focus on the task at hand, but admitted the famously parochial Suncorp Stadium atmosphere would provide a huge lift for his side.
NSW 'motivated' by Game I 'embarrassment'
Meantime, Slater's Blues opposite said the "embarrassment" of losing Game I is shaping as a huge "motivating" factor for his side. "We learn our lessons and we know that that's what Origin games are won on, on big moments," Fittler told reporters on Tuesday.
Only once, in 1998, have NSW been able to level the series at Suncorp Stadium after losing the first game. But that side, of which Fittler was a member, was unable to close things out in Game III.
"It's never been done before so this is the first step of that," Fittler said. "Regardless of the past, we need to win, it's as simple as that. We give ourselves a really good chance."
NSW goes into Game II without injured superstar Latrell Mitchell, while Cameron Murray (groin) and Liam Martin (concussion) have had limited preparation due to their own concerns. Reece Robson and Stefano Utoikamanu are set to make their Origin debuts, while many of the Blues' hopes rest on recalled halfback Mitchell Moses - entrusted with playmaking duties alongside Jarome Luai after Nathan Cleary's hamstring injury.
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