Andrew Johns on the Queensland Maroons players who terrify him

These are the kinks that need to be ironed out at training before next Wednesday.

Queensland’s advantage is their spine because it’s also been together for several years.

Halfback Daly Cherry-Evans and five-eighth Cameron Munster both bring out the best in fullback Kalyn Ponga. When Ponga is on the field in Origin, more often than not he’s the most dangerous player.

The worry for the Maroons is hooker Harry Grant staying in Melbourne to get over the flu. He’s also carrying a groin injury.

If he doesn’t play, how does that affect Queensland’s bench? Will Ben Hunt be able to play 80 minutes at hooker?

There are match-ups all over the field but the one I’m salivating over are the big boys up front: NSW’s Junior Paulo and Payne Haas up against Josh Papalii and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui.

They’re four massive front-rowers who are amazing athletes, have late footwork at the line and can move and step like players 15-20 kilograms lighter than they are.

That late footwork brings offloads into play. They all play big minutes and they all like to hurt and intimidate the opposition.

The collisions early between these four will shake Accor Stadium. Neither team has an advantage in terms of aggression. Lucky us.


The other big match-up I’m looking at are the wingers, who at Origin level are as important as front-rowers because there are limited penalties and very few errors so there’s a lot of kick-reception footy.

Queensland have picked two tall wingers in Xavier Coates and Selwyn Cobbo and that’s why NSW have selected Daniel Tupou. Therefore, Queensland will target Brian To’o on the other wing.

To’o concedes height but he provides a big advantage in the way he returns the ball with his nuggety body acting like a pinball, bouncing off and away from defenders. He’ll run for more than 200m.

These are the hardest players to defend: low centre of gravity, strong. The taller men are easier to tackle — although I wouldn’t want to be tackling Cobbo at the moment.

Queensland will look to get more out of Dane Gagai and Valentine Holmes. Both are strong dummy-half runners.

In terms of how both teams play, NSW will look like Penrith with Cleary and Luai linking with Yeo.

The Blues will also be a real threat out of dummy half, as always, with Damien Cook and James Tedesco exploiting the quick play-the-balls, tired markers and big men around the ruck.

The selection of Reuben Cotter for Queensland at lock tells me Queensland will play a completely different style to NSW.

You look at club land: locks these days play like halfbacks. But Cotter is an out-and-out ball runner. I can’t remember seeing him pass the ball.

That means Cherry-Evans and Munster will be playing on the ball and getting all the quality ball. That terrifies me.

The more Munster gets the ball, the more dangerous he can be. It presents a huge challenge for the Blues’ right-side defence. They cannot take their eyes off the Queensland No.6.

The other big threat on that side of the field is Ponga because it’s his favourite side. Munster playing with Kalyn off quick-play-the-balls is another major cause for concern.

The long-term weather report says it will be fine and windy next Wednesday night, which means no dew on the surface. The ball will be able to whiz from sideline to sideline.

To win this game, you’ll have to score more than 24 points. It will be a high-scoring one.

I’ll let you know who I’m tipping next week.

Fight night’s all right by me

I’ve been lapping up all the promotion and hype around this match and one thing stands out: the fights.

I know it’s not PC to say this but … I love it.

Origin is a different game to any other. It’s played differently, it’s usually officiated differently, so I think the powers that be should relax the punching rule.

Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Payne Haas didn’t see eye-to-eye in 2020.Credit:Getty Images

If the players are one-on-one, that’s OK. It lasts for three or four seconds before everyone rushes in and pulls them apart.

If a third man comes and throws a punch, send him to the bin.

Can you imagine Paulo and Papalii going at each other? Or Cleary and Cherry-Evans going at it, handbags at 10 paces?

Two years ago, Haas and Fa’asuamaleaui ripped into each other, no punches were thrown but they were both sin-binned.

The biggest growing sport in the world is UFC. It’s huge. It’s barbaric but people love it.

Rugby league should not apologise for what it is.

And, from memory, about the only player who has ever been hurt from a fight in Origin was me.

Watch the State of Origin exclusively live and free on Channel 9 and 9Now.

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