You could be forgiven for thinking it was April 1 when Brad Fittler named his team for State of Origin Game 2.
Here we go again, another year, same script. You know, the one that reads Queensland is busted and New South Wales is wiser yet privately acknowledge their only hope relies on the Maroons being busted.
So why should the result of this series be any different?
Well for starters Queensland is busted, bad, worse than Gavin Miller’s nose. They are so broken, even a broken Nate Myles has been passed fit.
Fact is, the greater the adversity the greater the Maroons performance and given the lopsided nature of the last decade, for adversity’s sake Billy Slater finds himself on the couch alongside Johnathan Thurston, Greg Inglis and Matt Scott.
No matter how deep the hole, just like those gone-for-all-money Tassie miners, the Maroons always find a way out.
Remember Casey McGuire? Unless you’re a Broncos fan, fair chance the name won’t ring any bells.
The non-descript utility debuted for Queensland in Game 1 2005, the same night Thurston played his first. Game 2 that year would be McGuire’s last. Thurston was there too, just as he has been for every game since.
Surely the Maroons are having a laugh. The harder they try to lose the shield, the more they lift it.
Anthony Milford will be at Suncorp tomorrow night but I can’t stop visualising Kevin Walter’s quivering bottom lip as he announces McGuire’s comeback is off.
I mean, this is Queensland, summer is about the perfection of another odd-defying trick: Fatty’s no-hopers, Alfie’s comeback. Hell, even Daniel Wagon piloted a series victory from five-eighth.
Not that Boyd Cordner will see it that way. If he’s anything like a bookie or Blues old-schooler, he’ll look at the Queensland rabble and think the job’s already done.
The new Blues skipper also knows nothing in Origin is more water tight than the Thurston-Cronk combination.
Excluding Cronk’s early exit from the 2014 opener, they’ve combined in nine of the last 12 games for seven victories. Given one loss was a dead rubber; history shows in the cunning duo’s presence the Blues’ game day dress should be tailored solely for Caxton Street antics.
Without the star halves in unison, Queensland resembles the Blues’ clunky best and has dropped all three games it has happened since 2013.
Daly Cherry-Evans shouldered much of the blame in Cronk’s absence when Queensland handed the shield to Paul Gallen in 2014 and he copped the kitchen sink a year later when the Blues repeated the dose to square the series.
Cronk plays this week, but for the first time we’ll truly understand the extent of Thurston’s Maroon thumb print.
So, is it just a matter of turning up for Laurie Daley’s men?
Nope, should be even easier than that, especially now their long-serving captain has pulled the pin.
Robbie Farah’s also not there and that’s enough for Mitchell Pearce to instantly become the player he has long tipped to be.
What can’t be argued is NSW’s inability to cross the stripe, they average less than two tries a game with only 22 from the last 12 games compared to Queensland’s 35.
Dig deeper though, and the Gallen bashers could have a hook to hang their hat.
Gallen played in all but two of the last 12 encounters and contributed to 20 per cent of the Blues forward hit-ups in those 10 outings (172 out of 878 hit-ups, hooker carries excluded) – no mean feat given four forwards warmed the bench in half those games.
In the five matches where Gallen topped 20 per cent of the forward carries he averaged 24 per cent a game but NSW only found the stripe seven times. In the other five, the Blues crossed 11 times and the Sharks enforcer averaged 16 per cent.
So there it is, Gallen’s a hog!
But what of it? Queensland are busted, Thurston is out and the Blues are stronger – it’s an all too familiar script.