2017 State of Origin: Game 2 preview

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    With one hand on the State of Origin shield, New South Wales will be out to wrap up this year’s series with a victory on their home soil.

    The Blues’ 28-4 victory in the opening game in Brisbane three weeks ago has put them in the box seat to claim just their second series victory since 2005.

    However, standing in the way of the Blues getting that second hand on the trophy is a vastly improved Queensland side which has made several changes from their Game I side as they attempt to save the series behind enemy lines.

    The only forced change for the Maroons is that of Anthony Milford, who suffered a shoulder injury in the Broncos’ 24-18 win over the Rabbitohs on June 9.

    The prognosis of six weeks means he is no chance of earning a recall for the third game in Brisbane, which the Maroons hope will be a decider on their home soil.

    Other than that, the Maroons have made six other changes following their poor Game I showing, with Corey Oates, Sam Thaiday, Nate Myles, Aidan Guerra, Justin O’Neill and Jacob Lillyman all paying the price.

    Experienced pair Billy Slater and Johnathan Thurston both return after they missed Game I due to injury, and their presence could be the difference between the side forcing a decider on home soil or surrendering the Origin shield for just the second time since 2005.

    Gavin Cooper also returns for his second game, after debuting in the dead rubber match last year.

    Four players will make their Origin debut – Valentine Holmes, Coen Hess, Tim Glasby and Jarrod Wallace – as the Maroons attempt to keep the series alive in front of an expected pro-Blue crowd of over 80,000 at ANZ Stadium.

    On the other hand, the Blues have named an unchanged line-up for the first time in over two decades, as they look to clinch the State of Origin shield in front of their fans for the second time in four years.

    First-year captain Boyd Cordner has the chance to become the first man since Danny Buderus in 2004 to win a series for New South Wales in his first year as the Blues’ captain.

    It would be quite an achievement considering he only became co-captain of the Sydney Roosters at the start of the year.

    For Jarryd Hayne, it will be his first match at ANZ Stadium since he famously ran the ball dead into the cheersquad at full-time of the second game in 2014, signifying the end of eight years of Origin misery.

    Could he prove to be the hero again tomorrow night?

    Here are the two line-ups, with the changes from Game I.

    New South Wales
    James Tedesco, Brett Morris, Josh Dugan, Jarryd Hayne, Blake Ferguson, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Aaron Woods, Nathan Peats, Andrew Fifita, Boyd Cordner (c), Josh Jackson, Tyson Frizell. Interchange: David Klemmer, Wade Graham, Jake Trbojevic, Jack Bird. 18th man: Matt Moylan. 19th man: Jack de Belin McLean. 20th man: Tom Trbojevic. Coach: Laurie Daley.

    Changes from Game I:
    None

    Queensland
    Billy Slater, Valentine Holmes*, Will Chambers, Darius Boyd, Dane Gagai, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Dylan Napa, Cameron Smith (c), Jarrod Wallace*, Gavin Cooper, Matt Gillett, Josh McGuire. Interchange: Michael Morgan, Josh Papalii, Coen Hess*, Tim Glasby*. 18th man: Cameron Munster. Coach: Kevin Walters.

    Changes from Game I
    IN: Billy Slater, Johnathan Thurston, Gavin Cooper, Valentine Holmes, Jarrod Wallace, Coen Hess, Tim Glasby.
    OUT: Anthony Milford (injury), Corey Oates, Sam Thaiday, Nate Myles, Aidan Guerra, Justin O’Neill, Jacob Lillyman (all omitted).

    * denotes debut

    Why the Blues will win
    Of the many reasons why the Blues will win tomorrow night, the most obvious one is the fact that they are playing at home.

    Having already won Game I in Brisbane, Laurie Daley’s men will have the chance to wrap up the series at home, with Game III still to be played at Suncorp Stadium on July 12.

    Boyd Cordner NSW Blues State of Origin NRL Rugby League 2017

    (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

    They are also unchanged for the first time in over 20 years, but whether the same 17 can deliver for the second match running will also remain to be seen.

    The much-maligned Mitchell Pearce, who tomorrow night will become the most-capped halfback in NSW history, will also be out to make a point to his detractors who have blamed him solely for the state’s previous failures.

    The Blues also boast a strong record at ANZ Stadium, winning 17 of the 25 matches that have been played at the Olympic ground since they moved there in 1999.

    Why the Maroons will win
    They get two of their most experienced players back in Billy Slater and Johnathan Thurston, and their return comes at a crucial time as they attempt to keep the series alive in enemy territory.

    Their last three Origin series victories have also required them to win at ANZ Stadium – the last time they won a series without winning at Homebush was in 2012 (they lost the second game that year).

    Amid speculation that Kevin Walters could be moved on if the Maroons drop just their second series since 2005, he will also be keen to show that he is in for the long haul by engineering an upset win in Sydney.

    The verdict
    Given their impressive performance in Game I, and their strong record at ANZ Stadium, it will be very hard tipping against the Blues in this one.

    Over 80,000 fans are expected to pack into the ground, hopefully to see their side salute for just the second time in the past twelve years, but while the Blues will start favourites they will face a completely different Maroons side than the one they humiliated in Brisbane three weeks ago.

    But in saying that, Kevin Walters’ men will be out to spoil the party as they attempt to force a decider on their home turf in three weeks’ time.

    They will have to buck a 20-year hoodoo to do so, having not won a Game II in Sydney, or won a series, after dropping the opening match in Brisbane since 1987.

    In the end, all the momentum will be with the Blues, as it was in 2003 and 2014, when they won Game II at home on the back of a win in enemy territory in the opening game.

    Prediction
    New South Wales by six points.