Beware the battered Maroons!
Despite their dynasty of dominance over the last decade or so, there's nothing the Queensland Origin side love more than flying under the radar or being written off. With Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith consigned to annals of history and injuries ruling out key stars and hovering like a dense cloud over others, the punters and the experts are lining up to tip the Blues to win and win big in game one on Wednesday night.
There's just one problem with that, the Maroons have still managed to put together a good unit and, if we've learned nothing else over the years, we've certainly learned that Queensland are at their most dangerous when expectations are at their lowest.
Queensland have triumphed in the last three series and hold a mental edge over a New South Wales side that has suffered defeat time and time again in more than a decade of losing efforts.
In their favour, this is a new-look Blues outfit, one that doesn't have the scars and nightmares of teams past, one that is fresh, vibrant and, truth be told, looks capable of starting a dynasty of their own.
2017 - Queensland 22 def. New South Wales 6 at Suncorp Stadium
2017 - Queensland 18 def. New South Wales 16 at ANZ Stadium
2017 - New South Wales 28 def. Queensland 4 at Suncorp Stadium
The Blues kick-started their 2017 campaign with a 28-4 hammering of the Maroons at Suncorp Stadium in game one, but while many were toasting a new era of New South Wales dominance, the Maroons bounced back and claimed the series with wins in Sydney and a deciding clash back at Suncorp Stadium.
The signs are all pointing to a big New South Wales win this time around, but could it prove to be another false dawn for long-suffering Blues fans? Only time will tell.
|New South Wales Blues||Queensland Maroons|
|1||James Tedesco||Michael Morgan|
|2||Tom Trbojevic||Valentine Holmes|
|3||Latrell Mitchell||Greg Inglis|
|4||James Roberts||Will Chambers|
|5||Josh Addo-Carr||Dane Gagai|
|6||James Maloney||Cameron Munster|
|7||Nathan Cleary||Ben Hunt|
|8||David Klemmer||Dylan Napa|
|9||Damien Cook||Andrew McCullough|
|10||Reagan Campbell-Gillard||Jarrod Wallace|
|11||Boyd Cordner||Gavin Cooper|
|12||Tyson Frizell||Felise Kaufusi|
|13||Jack de Belin||Josh McGuire|
|14||Paul Vaughan||Josh Papalii|
|15||Jake Trbojevic||Coen Hess|
|16||Angus Crichton||Jai Arrow|
|17/19||Tyrone Peachey||Anthony Milford|
|18||Tariq Sims||Tim Glasby|
|19/20||Nick Cotric||Kalyn Ponga|
The facts that matter
New South Wales Blues
The Blues have ushered in a new era under first-year head coach Brad Fittler. With 11 debutants named in a squad boasting so little Origin experience, the Blues don't have the scars of recent years and should head into game one with plenty of enthusiasm and excitement,
Tempering the excitement and ensuring key players aren't over-awed by the whole experience will be a key part of Brad Fittler's pre-game preparation and with 10 of the last 17 games between these two storied opponents decided by four points or less, there's every chance the latest installment will be another slugfest.
With only six players surviving from their last campaign, the new-look Blues are desperate to get things back on track. Fittler has thrown out the traditional playbook and is doing things in his own undoubted style with a side picked on sheer pace and good form throughout the forward pack.
A backline boasting James Tedesco, Tom Trbojevic, Latrell Mitchell, James Roberts and Josh Addo-Carr looks set to be electric with the ball in hand, and could prove unstoppable should they get on a roll behind a forward pack going in the right direction.
That said, there are huge question marks defensively on both fringes which will lead to plenty of work for the fringe forwards and could hand Queensland opportunities to score.
A club-based halves pairing of Penrith's James Maloney and Nathan Cleary definitely looks the right option. Both have been in good form this season and contributed heavily to the Panthers sitting at the top of the NRL Ladder.
Avoiding stage fright will be the key to victory in Melbourne for the Blues. If a host of young players keep their heads and don't let the occasion over-awe them, they should win this game and win it comfortably.
It has been a long time since the Maroons entered a State of Origin campaign with expectations as low as they are for the 2018 series.
The champion Maroons have dominated the Origin arena for well over a decade now and will be hoping to add an unlikely series triumph this year to their amazing run.
New captain Greg Inglis will wear much of burden in terms of leadership and passion in the wake of the representative retirements of Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith, the axing of Matt Scott and Darius Boyd and the absence through injury of Billy Slater.
Slater pulled out earlier this week with a hamstring injury, meaning the Maroons enter with an entirely different spine to the one that has almost been the literal backbone of their sustained success over such a long period of time.
Much of the 'new era' talk has come for the team based south of the mighty Tweed River, but with over 150 games of State of Origin experience lost for the Maroons, the regeneration of Kevin Walter's squad has taken place right before our eyes.
That the Maroons will be without both Thurston and Cronk for the first time since 2004 says volumes for the continuity and success they have put together for the last 13-14 campaigns. How they respond to the loss of a group of champions will be key.
Injury has forced Michael Morgan in to fullback after originally being named on the bench. Anthony Milford has been added into the 17 while Kalyn Ponga was also rushed into camp.
Cameron Munster and Ben Hunt form the halves pairing with the biggest shoes to fill we've seen in some time.
While the traditional Queensland mentality comes to the fore when they're written off or not expected to win, I still can't go past the Blues in this one.
Queensland's preparation has been rife with issues and health concerns while the Blues have picked a squad on form and sailed through the build-up with no issues at all.
For mine, Brad Fittler and his 11 debutants get the perfect start to their respective Origin coaching and players careers in Melbourne with a big win. New South Wales by 12 points.
Think the Blues can do it in Melbourne, or will the Maroons defy the odds and get yet another win? Let us know in the comments and poll below.