Maroons feeling the heat ahead of Origin II
So much for loyalty. Queensland are clearly feeling vulnerable.
The pick and stick mentality Queensland revelled in while collecting their record seven straight State of Origin series wins has gone out the window for game two at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday.
Down 1-0 in the three-game series, Maroons coach Mal Meninga no longer enjoyed the luxury of hanging onto all of his ageing team and punted veteran duo David Shillington and Ashley Harrison. Meninga said test prop Shillington was out of form and described workhorse Harrison as ''past his better days''.
The need to revitalise his squad overruled what's been a core Queensland selection principle over 33 years of Origin football - staying true to players who brought success and giving them the chance to atone for the odd quiet game.
Enter hard-hitting Canberra forward Josh Papalii, a man with a proven record of ruffling NSW captain Paul Gallen's feathers, and young Manly halfback Daly Cherry-Evans who can add creativity in several positions off the bench.
''I thought fresh faces and more enthusiasm in our footy team was important,'' Meninga said.
No matter how unsettling that change has been - not to mention the ''storm in a teacup'' publicity over Meninga being asked to leave a bar during a team outing - the Maroons' game two build-up has been smooth compared to that confronting rookie NSW coach Laurie Daley.
Needing just one more win on Wednesday night to topple Queensland's great Origin dynasty, everything looked rosy for Daley. Then all hell broke loose. Two starting players, prop James Tamou and winger Blake Ferguson, have been stood down with police charges of high-range drink driving and indecent assault respectively hanging over them.
Star fullback Jarryd Hayne was lost to injury and his replacement Josh Dugan had his selection queried by Meninga, unimpressed to see him representing his state so soon after being sacked by Canberra for repeated off-field offences. Despite that bumpy start, Blues vice-captain Robbie Farah insisted the Blues camp was running smoothly and had eyes only for the big prize on offer in enemy territory at Suncorp Stadium.
''It's not affecting us,'' said Farah. ''It's a big game. We're just focused on that.''
Halfback Mitchell Pearce said the playing group had been mentally prepared for Hayne to miss game two, and he backed Dugan to provide similar impact.
''(Dugan) and Hayne have got that similar style as far as having that x-factor,'' said Pearce.
''And they've both got size. In Origin it's important to have a fullback who has got size and can get you on the front foot to start your set.''
The Blues have called on some young blood of their own, with 22-year-old prop Aaron Woods stepping in to fill the spot of Tamou. But Farah said Woods had the maturity to perform well on debut before the hostile Suncorp Stadium crowd, having led their Wests Tigers pack the past two seasons.
''Even at such a young age, he's a person that's a senior player at the Tigers,'' said the Blues hooker and Tigers captain.
''He's a person that I go to and I look to for leadership. That says a lot about the type of player he is, considering how young he is.
''He's a tough kid and I know he won't be daunted by his debut up there.
''It's a tough place to go and make your debut but I've no doubts he'll handle it.
''He's been the mainstay in the (Tigers) pack in the past 18 months.''