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Queensland brace for NSW Origin onslaught

Assistant coach Michael Hagan believes Queensland are fielding their best attacking side in recent years in Wednesday night's opening State of Origin rugby league match.
Queensland brace for NSW Origin onslaught
by NRL

By Wayne Heming

MELBOURNE, May 23 AAP - Assistant coach Michael Hagan believes Queensland are fielding their best attacking side in recent years in Wednesday night's opening State of Origin rugby league match.

And he says a desperate NSW team are weighed down by pressure to win after losing six straight series.

Speaking hours before kick-off at Melbourne's Etihad Stadium, Hagan declared the Maroons ready to go, including skipper Cameron Smith who has been battling a cold.

"Everyone's relaxed and our preparation has been exceptionally good," said Hagan, as the Queensland players took their traditional pre-match walk together on the morning of the game.

Hagan said NSW would turn heavily to their new "spine" of halfback Mitchell Pearce, hooker Robbie Farah and fullback Brett Stewart to win the clash.

"You're looking at Stewart, Pearce and Farah who haven't been there together before but who are all quality players in their own right," he said.

And that promises a tantalising contest against their Queensland counterparts, Melbourne Storm trio Cooper Cronk, Smith and Billy Slater.

Hagan said coach Ricky Stuart's comments during the week that he "f***ing hated" losing the Blues' long series losing streak suggested his players would come out fired up in a bid to unsettle the Queenslanders' rhythm early.

"They (NSW) are going to be hard to beat. They are going to be desperate because of the pressure they've been under for a long while," he said.

"They were thereabouts last year and they've obviously built on what they did. We know they've going to have the same attitude in game one and they've got plenty of points in them.

"I don't think they'll be too much between the two teams at the end."

Queensland produced a near-faultless first half in last year's third game series-decider and Hagan said if they could reproduce that effort they would be very hard to beat.

The absence of retired captain and five-eighth Darren Lockyer had allowed the likes of new skipper Smith, promoted halfback Cronk and new five-eighth Johnathan Thurston to step up and have more input, according to Hagan.

"You don't replace a player like Darren but his retirement has allowed Cameron to be more dominant in his role," he said.

"Cooper and JT have been very good in their roles and Billy Slater has provided some really good energy around the team."

Hagan was excited about the prospect of seeing Queensland centres Justin Hodges and Greg Inglis, who is one try short of setting an Origin record, playing fit and in form.

"They're both great players and Queensland fans should be excited," he said.

"We need to get some early quality ball out to both GI and Hodgo. Both Cooper and JT (Thurston) understand that."




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