NSW's Andrew Fifita gets crunched last year. Photo: Brendan Esposito
Reflections on 99 previous State of Origin matches say two things about Queensland.
Even when they have not had the better players, they have won their share. When they have had the better players, well, as they say up north, ''Queensland. Perfect one day, eight straight the next.''
A decade ago, Origin was suffocating under a blue blanket. NSW had won three consecutive series, and Queensland had won only four of the previous 14. Origin was meant to be Queensland's thing, an institutionalised apology for historic wrongs. Even New South Welshmen felt sorry for them, and turned a blind eye to Queensland's snaffling of its best teenage products, Greg Inglis and Israel Folau. Concessions, it was felt, might even things up.
Little did they know that the Queensland Rugby League was cooking up a golden generation, arguably the best group of rugby league footballers ever to take the field together.
Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk, Justin Hodges, Sam Thaiday, Matt Scott and Inglis emerged to make the Blues the Washington Generals to their Harlem Globetrotters.
Queensland loved being underdogs, but they don't mind being overdogs either. Interstate rugby league has not been so one-sided since the pre-Origin era.
Even in anticipation of this year's series, some NSW players sound philosophical. Anthony ''Choc'' Watmough said, ''It's time to relax now and enjoy everything … just embrace everything that it is about.''
What it has been about for the Blues, since 2005, is defeat. Meanwhile, the perennially humble Blues captain, Paul Gallen, has attempted to incite Queenslanders with jokes about ''two-heads'', perhaps because, based on last year's display, that would double his chances of landing a punch.
On cue, the King of Origin, Wally Lewis, was incited. Gallen's joke ''was an indication of long-held disrespect for Queensland'', even more than an indication of a long-held understanding of the need to promote a game that has, this year, struggled to sell tickets.
Queensland are heavy favourites. But to reduce the game to a simple fact - they have much better players - would stop the conversation and put sportswriters out of a job. So let's make a game of it.
This year, the Blues have new playmakers in the Bullpups pairing of Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds, and new tactics under the coaching of the ever-likeable Laurie Daley and Matt Parish. This year, age and arrogance will catch up with Queensland. This year, Jarryd Hayne will dethrone all others as the best player in the league. This year will be different. Just like last year, the year before, and six years before that.
Sport needs unpredictability. Yet through this most repetitive, dispiriting era, NSW has increased its fascination with Origin. Ending the losing run has become a crusade. Could Queensland have stayed interested for so long without having the rules changed? In its year-on-year resolution to stop losing, in its defiance of the inevitable, NSW has found something to be proud of. Queensland will be happy for it to keep going. They already have their slogan: Nine is divine.
Full coverage- SportsDay