Des Hasler has been an absolute rock of support for Tony ‘T-Rex’ Williams at Canterbury. But up until recent weeks, the giant back-rower hasn’t been the impact player for the Bulldogs that he was at Manly.
Now Williams is being shown similar support from NSW Blues coach Laurie Daley and I’ve got a hunch it will pay big dividends on Wednesday night at Suncorp Stadium.
T-Rex looks to have finally regained much of his feared, rampaging mojo. Coming off the bench he can cause drama aplenty for the Maroons, especially if he aims his huge frame at Queensland’s smaller men.
Interstate games will never come bigger than this one with the home crowd at fever pitch celebrating the 100th Origin contest.
That, in itself, should stoke the fires in Williams’ belly and all the criticism he has worn over the past season or so will disappear when he is called into battle.
I really like the look of the re-built NSW team, which has a smattering of new players and numerous club combinations featured. I originally thought that the Blues should consider Jarryd Hayne for a wing spot, but his fabulous form for Parramatta demanded that he be picked at fullback.
As many agree here on The Roar, Hayne has that X-factor that can have the Maroons in two minds, and if he gets through a gap or comes up with an unexpected kick or clever pass, it may well decide the issue.
Of course, the big attention will be focused on NSW’s new scrum-base pairing of Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds. Can they transfer their excellence at club level to the origin arena? That’s the $64 question.
They will be subjected to enormous pressure by the Queensland defence, but these are tough competitors who seem to thrive when the heat is on.
Reynolds is often a cheeky, in-your-face player with a touch of mongrel that I believe is needed to succeed in Origin football. If people think he won’t hesitate putting a huge hit on Thurston or Slater, well, they haven’t been watching the same player as me.
Hodkinson’s kicking skills will be severely tested in this game and I reckon he’ll handle that side of his debut with aplomb. I’d just like to see him run the ball a bit more to keep opposing tacklers guessing.
The Queensland team is gunning for an amazing ninth straight series win and they will start the game as comfortable favourites to take Game 1 in the series.
Their team list reads like a who’s who of modern Origin history, but they are not unbeatable. The Blues are getting closer every year, with thrilling contests going down to the final 10 minutes.
I have been picking NSW to win the series for the past five or six seasons without any luck. Some wags have pleaded with me to tip the Queenslanders in the series opener but I’m refusing to budge.
Therefore, the Wizard is picking the Blues to win by four on Wednesday night – with big T-Rex proving the difference.