Under 18s strive to break Blues dominance
The Queensland Under 18s will be looking to break the dominance of their NSW counterparts when they clash in the annual curtain-raiser to State of Origin I tonight.
A chilly 10C is forecast for the 5.15pm kick-off in Melbourne and the young Maroons will be hoping to serve a cold dish of revenge to their long-time foes when they run out for battle at the MCG.
NSW have been dominant in the Under 18s age group in recent years with the young Blues winning four of the five interstate clashes since 2013.
Many of the team running out tonight played in the Under 16s clash two years ago that saw NSW claim a dramatic 12-10 victory at ANZ Stadium.
Kurt Richards was the unlucky coach on that occasion and he has elected to adopt the loyalty trait that has served Queensland so well in recent years selecting 12 of the 17 members of his 2016 squad in a bid to get one back against the Blues.
Amongst those returning are young guns Cory Paix (playing hooker this year) and Tanah Boyd in the halves alongside forward duo Tino Fa'asuamaleaui and Garrett Smith, with all playing underage in last year's Under 18s match.
But whilst boasting attacking threats in the likes of fleet-footed fullback Fanitesi Niu and high-flying wingman Xavier Coates, the Queenslanders biggest attacking weapons come in the form of Fa'asuamaleaui and the destructive David Fifita.
Richards will be looking to draw on the big-game experience of his damaging duo that has seen both players graduate seamlessly into the Intrust Super Cup this season. Yet their coach insists there is no added pressure to perform.
"I just want them to lead by example, do the little things right that they do well and go out there and enjoy themselves," he said.
NSW will have to pay particular attention to Fifita who has been given the honour of captaining his state and the junior Maroons coach believes the barnstorming backrower is well on his way to higher honours.
"'I've seen over the last year he's worked on those areas that he's needed to work on and he's a pretty committed kid so I'm sure he will get to where he wants to in the near future," Richards said.
But talent aside, the recipe to much of Queensland's success in the senior ranks over the past decade has been that famous Maroons culture.
Richards will be hoping his side can take a page out of their senior counterparts' book and believes the presence of Maroons legend Corey Parker throughout camp and the annual Emerging Origin camp has been instrumental in instilling the right culture amongst his squad.
"We have the QAS Emerging Origin Camp in January that is about instilling the Maroons culture into them and we've also had Corey Parker in camp as our mentor so he's brought some strong messages with him as well."
But whilst he wants his side to embody the rich Maroons culture, Richards believes it is important the players remain true to themselves and make their own mark on the game's biggest stage.
"It's also about what these boys want and what they want to be remembered for, so it will be a great experience for them all," he said.
Hunger for revenge
The match will pit some of the game's best emerging talent against each other and with NSW fielding a strong line-up featuring players with NRL pedigree, an enthralling contest beckons.
But Richards is confident that his side's preparations and hunger for revenge will hold them in good stead come kick off.
"We've had a great staff on board working to give everything the boys need, and we have made sure we have prepared the players to know their role, so they can get out there and do their state proud," he said.
As for last words before his side went into battle, the message was simple.
"I don't think it's a motivational speech that's going to get the job done ... I just want them to get out there, enjoy themselves and not let the bloke beside them down."