Stepping up: Queensland's Brent Tate limbers up with teammates ahead of Wednesday's origin clash against New South Wales at Etihad Stadium. Photo: Ken Irwin
TO QUEENSLAND half-back Cooper Cronk, it matters little that Wednesday's state-of-origin opener against New South Wales at Etihad Stadium will be the first in which he will start in the No. 7 jersey.
Cronk has played origin before - six games as a utility coming off the bench in the past two years - while Johnathan Thurston and Darren Lockyer dominated the Maroons' halves pairing.
But Lockyer's retirement and Thurston's shift to five-eighth has opened the way for a Cronk-Thurston combination, a preview of which was seen in Australia's 20-12 win over New Zealand in April.
''It's not as if we've been thrown into the deep end,'' Cronk said. ''I've known Johnathan for while. We've been in a few rep teams these days so we've got that relationship off the field, it's just about developing it on the field.
''It doesn't matter about the positions in origin. Origin's all about how mentally tough you are. It tests your character and tests your will to compete for the 80 minutes, so you can have all the relationships and combinations and everything like that, but you'll have to be willing to fight for a long period of time to win an origin game.
''I enjoyed my experiences in playing off the bench. It made me a better footballer and a better person to understand what it takes to defend and play in the middle of the ruck in an origin game.
''It's kept me in good stead and I'm looking forward to playing out the 80 minutes and testing myself out for the entire time and, hopefully, having a good impact on the game.''
Maroons teammate Brent Tate admitted he hopes the future does not hold the need for further comebacks. Tate's career, which started with Brisbane in 2001, has been hampered by injuries, which included a serious neck problem and three knee reconstructions.
Justin Hodges last week joked that he and Tate worked out that they had a combined total of ''nearly 30'' injuries throughout their careers.
''I don't think about it too much and I don't really like talking about it too much,'' Tate said.
''The last time I fought my way back [in 2010] it all happened again [injury]. I just take each game as it comes. If anything, it does teach you to enjoy [it], not that I think that I needed to be taught that, but I love being back, it's been a long road.''
NSW player Greg Bird said the Blues needed to turn their focus away from the six straight series defeats and onto the most important one - the one ahead of them. ''It's always in the back of your head that they've won six, but this camp, we haven't really spoken about it at all,'' he said. ''We've spoken about what we can do in the game. If everyone takes care of what they have to do, the result will take care of itself.''
He said this Blues squad would not fall into the trap of concentrating too much on the Maroons. When told the Maroons cancelled a training session on Friday because they were comfortable with their progress, Bird said: ''If they're going good enough that they don't need to train, they're going real good … But they've got the runs on the board that they can do that.''