New South Wales was ambushed in last year’s State of Origin series.
The “worst” Queensland team ever took down a superior team on paper that got spooked by a Wayne Bennett masterclass.
That manifested in the Blues’ decision not to carry a spare back or utility player on the bench in the decider, which cost them dearly when James Tedesco got knocked out early in the game.
This time around, NSW selectors are making no such mistakes, as the 50-6 drubbing in State of Origin I proved.
The fact that there was ever any suggestion of a debate about the five-eighth position is laughable.
Jack Wighton is the reigning Dally M medallist and Cody Walker was the incumbent Blues pivot, but come on.
Halfway through his second full season as the five-eighth of the current best team in the NRL, Jarome Luai is no longer a risky prospect. He’s a proven entity and one of the most creative ball-carriers in rugby league.
In Game I, he also answered every defensive question the Maroons asked of him, as Felise Kaufusi failed to make an impact despite being ill-used as a battering ram on the much smaller Luai.
Another Panther, Brian To’o, answered similarly ridiculous questions about his suitability for Origin, questions that seemed to be based solely on his height.
While Xavier Coates will always out-leap him and could score multiple tries in the series by doing so, To’o proved his value by scoring two tries and leading both teams in all run metres (220m) and post-contact (90m), which is exactly the sort of performance he pulls out every week in the regular season.
And then we come to the biggest reintroductions for NSW — the centres.
Sure, like last year, NSW is still picking fullbacks in the centres, but there’s no point pretending Wighton and Clint Gutherson are the same as Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell.
The latter two are on the Greg Inglis level of being able to play multiple positions and do so at a world-class level. Something they both proved in Game I.
Mitchell was able to play a very Inglis-like game, flashing his freakish athleticism with two line breaks and a game-high 10 tackle busts, while also throwing the final pass in two tries.
Meanwhile, Trbojevic’s return was good enough to make you think he could have single-handedly tipped the scales in the Blues’ favour had he been fit last year.
Aside from the hat-trick, his presence alone created at least two more tries for the Blues.
He also kicked for centre partner Mitchell to score at the start of the second half.
By that point we had acclimatised to his roaming role, but his first appearance on the left side of the field in the opening exchanges was as surprising to the viewers as it should have been terrifying for Queensland.
It’s been a long time since legends like Reg Gasnier and Graeme Langlands ruled the land and centre can be a restrictive role in the modern game.
Usually numbers three and four are almost as far away from each other as possible, each standing just inside the wingers on either side of the field.
It was part of the reason that Inglis’s Origin career, while brilliant, was also frustrating. You could easily go a full half of football without him even really seeing the ball in any substantive way.
But Trbojevic, arguably the best fullback in the competition right now, was given the freedom to roam and find it.
After copping criticism for last year’s capitulation, NSW coach Brad Fittler deserves all the credit in the world for allowing his newest Ferrari to really hit the open road.
Now he has a team full of the biggest, strongest, fastest blokes on the field, with just enough of a sprinkling of team chemistry.
Queensland, meanwhile, has made some mis-steps.
The tactics around Harry Grant were particularly bemusing.
The Storm hooker has played just five games this year. He has not played 80 minutes in any of those games and hadn’t taken the field in more than a month due to a leg injury.
Even so, the Maroons intelligentsia released Reed Mahoney, the only other hooking option from the original 20-man squad, and only brought in another one, Ben Hunt, at the last minute, clearly with no intention of playing him.
Instead, Paul Green opted for fullback AJ Brimson as his bench utility, despite the fact he hasn’t displayed a proficiency to play in the middle the way Hunt has and also hobbled out of his last club game with a badly injured knee.
It was no coincidence, then, that Brimson was folded in half like a soft-shell taco under Daniel Saifiti as the giant prop crashed over for his second-half try.
Maybe the return of Kalyn Ponga and Josh Papalii will spark another famous Maroons comeback, but on the balance of what we saw on Wednesday night, unless they’re the second coming of Darren Lockyer and Arthur Beetson, it won’t be enough to beat a Blues side that seems to have finally got the balance right.