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Blues won't be distracted by Maroons' woes

Dane Gagai scores in State of Origin Game 1 for Queensland. (Photo: AAP)
5th June, 2018
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NSW insist there’s a simple reason why Billy Slater’s late withdrawal won’t change their game plan for Wednesday night’s State of Origin opener.

They don’t care who they run out against.

Superstar Slater will be replaced at fullback by Michael Morgan, while the Maroons are also reeling following news that winger Dane Gagai suffered a compound finger dislocation at training on Tuesday.

Queensland are hopeful Gagai will play, but if he misses the match it could force a complete reshuffle of the Maroons’ backline with neither team having another chance to train again before the MCG clash.

More on State of Origin 1:
» The ultimate Origin Game 1 preview
» The more Origin changes, the more it stays the same
» The three keys to a New South Wales victory
» A Melbournian’s guide to Origin 1 at the MCG

“Not a thing (changes),” veteran NSW five-eighth James Maloney said.

“We haven’t done a thing all week about Queensland. It’s been about getting our own backyard in order and that’s where the focus will stay.

“They’re going to be tough, it doesn’t matter who it is. They’ll play well and they’ve got a very good side. There’s no shying away from that.”

NSW have had other issues on their mind this week, namely getting 11 new players to gel at Origin level without cracking under pressure.

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Blues players trained together on the MCG for the first time on Tuesday afternoon, signifying for most the first time they’d ever stepped foot on the ground.

“The message for us all week, because there’s been such a change and new players, we’ve just been really focused on ourselves,” captain Boyd Cornder

“We haven’t read too much into their injuries or what their team is going to look like. We’re just focused on ourselves.”

Even if Gagai does play, the Maroons will be without 198 matches of Origin experience when combined with the absences of Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Darius Boyd, Matt Scott, Matt Gillett and Slater.

For context, the remaining 17 Maroons will now have as few as 84 games between them on Wednesday night.

NSW will also enter the match with a more experienced spine than Queensland for the first time in recent memory, particularly given the Maroons’ stability around their key positions since 2006.

It leaves the likes of Morgan, Cameron Munster, Ben Hunt and Andrew McCullough with the task of extending the Maroons’ run beyond their 11 series wins in the past 12 years.

But the Blues, through Maloney, refused to take the chance to pile further pressure on Queensland on Tuesday as they continue to look inward.

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“You can look at it two ways,” Maloney said when asked if the new-look Maroons were under pressure to maintain their run.

“We’ve only won one in 12 years, so the pressure is on us to start winning.

“It’s all how you look at it. We’re just focused on the job ahead and not too much about all the external stuff.”