State of Origin II: New South Wales v Queensland preview
Last Updated: 21/06/17 1:57pm
Queensland are banking on the return of Test greats Billy Slater and Johnathan Thurston to rekindle hopes of defending their State of Origin crown against New South Wales on Wednesday.
Injured Thurston and overlooked Slater were missing when the Blues were decisive 28-4 winners in the opening match of the series in Brisbane on May 31.
Mal Meninga's side must win Wednesday's crunch game in Sydney to take the series to a decider in Suncorp Stadium on July 12.
Queensland have won 10 of the last 11 interstate series - including 22 match victories to 12 - and face a confident unchanged New South Wales line-up.
But the return of Origin warriors Thurston and Slater may tilt the balance as they reunite with influential Melbourne Storm pair Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk to recharge the Maroons.
A shoulder injury kept Thurston out of game one, ending his record run of 36 straight Origins.
"He's one of the greatest players of all time," said skipper Smith. "I am looking forward to seeing him play for Queensland again."
Queensland have revamped their forward pack, dropping veterans Nate Myles and Sam Thaiday along with Jacob Lillyman and Aidan Guerra.
"Definitely it's a changing of the guard," said Smith. "It's just time for those guys to move on and see some young guys come in."
Queensland coach Kevin Walters has gambled by moving Darius Boyd from full-back to left centre to accommodate the return of Slater, with Boyd having never played in that position in Origin.
"It's a bit of a risk as such, but not in my eyes," said Walters. "We have full confidence in Darius' ability."
Destructive prop Andrew Fifita was dynamic for the Blues in the first game and New South Wales captain Boyd Cordner has warned Queensland that any attempt to target him is fraught with danger.
"If they want to just focus in on one player, we've got a lot of strike across the field where we can hurt them," he said.
New South Wales: 1 James Tedesco, 2 Brett Morris, 3 Josh Dugan, 4 Jarryd Hayne, 5 Blake Ferguson, 6 James Maloney, 7 Mitchell Pearce; 8 Aaron Woods, 9 Nathan Peats, 10 Andrew Fifita, 11 Boyd Cordner (c), 12 Josh Jackson, 13 Tyson Frizell.
Interchange: 14 David Klemmer, 15 Wade Graham, 16 Jake Trbojevic, 17 Jack Bird.
Queensland: 1 Billy Slater, 2 Valentine Holmes, 3 Will Chambers, 4 Darius Boyd, 5 Dane Gagai, 6 Johnathan Thurston, 7 Cooper Cronk; 8 Dylan Napa, 9 Cameron Smith (c), 10 Jarrod Wallace, 11 Gavin Cooper, 12 Matt Gillett, 13 Josh McGuire.
Interchange: 14 Michael Morgan, 15 Josh Papalii, 16 Coen Hess, 17 Tim Glasby.
Referees: Matt Cecchin, Gerard Sutton.