Michael Ennis: NSW facing a much sterner test
QUEENSLAND will welcome back future Immortals Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater for game two at ANZ Stadium tonight but the one player NSW has to stop if it is to win the series is my old Sharks teammate Valentine Holmes.
I thought Dane Gagai was superb in game one for the Maroons in a beaten side and while Corey Oates was also good, I think they have got a superstar on the wing now in Valentine.
I was fortunate enough to play with him for a number of years at Cronulla and this guy is something else.
There was an opportunity for Queensland in game one where they put a short kick into the in-goal and Oates did everything he could to get to the football but knocked the ball on. I think Valentine Holmes would have scored that.
He turns half-chances into points and he's got great anticipation.
I remember a game against the Bulldogs where I got out of dummy half and the game was in the balance. I saw an opportunity with their winger up and I just put a kick in. I just hoped that Valentine would react and he did and he scored a try for us at Belmore Oval.
Not many other wingers in the game could have done that and I think that the way he will start the sets for Queensland - where it really struggled in game one to get any fast play-the-balls - he will just rip through that middle with his leg speed and footwork.
Queensland's back three, with Gagai, Slater and Holmes, is far more dangerous than what it was in game one and that is a danger for the Blues.
Another thing that Laurie Daley's men will have to watch out for is the surface at ANZ Stadium.
I think it will be slippery and dewy and that certainly brings Queensland back into the contest, especially through that middle third of the field.
I don't think it will allow NSW to have as much fast leg speed as it did in game one.
The surface at Suncorp really allows you to play a fast and open style of game and while they will have the grass as short as possible for NSW, I still think that come tonight, with the weather that we have had down here - it's cold, it's been wet - it will bring Cameron Smith and Thurston back into the forefront where they are so good.
They will really try to do a job on James Tedesco, who really put in a 10-out-of-10 performance in game one.
They will kick on plays three and four early in sets and due to the conditions they will trap the NSW fullback in the corners and really shorten up their defensive line and try and make it difficult for the Blues to get that momentum through the ruck.
They will kick long early to make the likes of Fifita and Woods run a long way back to the football.
This game is enormous, make no bones about it.
I think NSW is facing a side that it should have been taking on in the first game, with JT the only one missing through injury.
Just for the likes of Dylan Napa, Coen Hess and Jarrod Wallace - all these guys who are in camp that have dreamed of playing State of Origin - they dreamed of being in there with Slater, Thurston and Smith, and they get that opportunity now.
Just the presence of those guys around training will lift their confidence enormously and I think the performance we will see from Queensland - especially because of the fact that this is JT's final series - will be a huge improvement on what we saw at Suncorp three weeks ago.
Thurston has been a champion in every arena he has been in and Queensland will lift, it always does for its champions, and it needs to tomorrow night.
The series is on the line and no doubt Queensland would love nothing more than to head back to Suncorp in game three 1-1 in JT's last game with 52,000 Queenslanders right behind it.
I think Queensland is going to be right in this game but I think it might be a four-point ball game with NSW coming out on top.
I think it's going to be that close.
It might be a James Maloney penalty goal or a try in the final 10 minutes for NSW, something like that that will seal it.
I can't wait.
It's going to be a blockbuster.