Canberra have every right to be furious over their loss to St George Illawarra.
After a baptism of fire in his State of Origin debut, Penrith’s Stephen Crichton knows the size of the task ahead of him as NSW aim to level the series.
Crichton was a surprise selection on the bench for game one and was only thrown into action when Kotoni Staggs picked up a shoulder injury.
He struggled to get into his groove in his 30-minute cameo and one of his first involvements resulted in him being placed on report for a dangerous throw on Cameron Munster.
The Maroons five-eighth also showed off his cunning game awareness by stripping the ball off Crichton when the Blues desperately went in search of a late try, leaving the Origin debutant red-faced.
“I knew it was going to be quick, but it surprised me just how quick it was,” he said.
“I think it is a bit hard (to get yourself into a game) when you come off the bench.
“But you don’t want to be complaining about waiting to get on because you know that’s part of the game.”
The good thing for Crichton is he will have time to show why he is one of the most highly rated young players in the game.
Still just 21 and a veteran of 67 NRL games, Crichton has displaced Staggs as Brad Fittler’s first-choice right centre and will start in Sunday’s game in Perth.
It sets him on a collision course with Queensland’s potent left edge, where Valentine Holmes and Kurt Capewell found joy in the series opener.
Defending at centre is one of the hardest assignments in the game, but Crichton’s role has added difficulty – stopping the mercurial Munster who finds himself in career-best form.
“He (Munster) is playing really good footy at the moment,” Crichton said.
“The only way we can minimise his involvements is sticking together as a team and not trying to do it as individuals.
“I can’t wait to get out there and play again and it’s about us getting our communication together.”
Josh Papalii will soak up every minute of State of Origin II knowing there could only be 20 available to him after the veteran’s cameo role in their series-opening win.
The Canberra statesman was substituted after just 15 minutes and didn’t return until the final five of their 16-10 win over NSW in Sydney.
Reuben Cotter’s 80-minute effort and terrific bench output from Pat Carrigan and Lindsay Collins meant the veteran could sit back and admire the next crop in his 21st Origin appearance.
Coach Billy Slater’s tactics may change with Jai Arrow replacing the injured Cotter and Papalii admits he expects more from himself in Perth on Sunday.
But if he is asked to bookend the contest again he’ll do so happily.
“Bill just said ‘go as hard as I can for as long as I can,” Papalii told AAP.
“I did that for 15 and the last five or so; if that’s my role, that’s my role and I am happy to sit on the bench the whole game if I have to.
“Those boys came on, took it to another level. It doesn’t bother me, the main thing is we win.”
Papalii, 30, doesn’t mind being referred to as a father figure of a Maroons forward pack headed by 22-year-old Tino Fa’asuamaleaui.
“It felt like yesterday that it was Matt Scott, Nate Myles doing it to me,” he said.
“Those memories last for a long time and it felt like that in Sydney … to sit around (in the dressing room after fulltime) and embrace it, cherish that moment.
“You never know when it’s your last camp, so I’m just soaking it all in. I just hope I play a bit better in Perth.”
Papalii acknowledged NSW’s mass changes as a sign they’ll explode from kick-off, heightening the importance of his role in the opening exchanges.
“They’ll be desperate; they’ve picked that team for a reason, a must-win game for them,” he said.
“They’ll want to stamp some authority and lock it up … they’ll come out pretty fiery and it’s a massive task to start well and hopefully we can do that.
“(With Cotter injured) we’ve got to bite down on the mouthguard, chip in and help each other out.”
Queensland promise they’ll be ready to counter wrestling tactics from NSW in Friday night’s Women’s State of Origin clash.
While they secured an 8-6 win last year, Maroons captain Ali Brigginshaw says the Blues’ slow play-the-ball tactics impacted their attack and they must deal with it much better in order to retain the shield in Canberra.
“That’s one way they think they can get under our skin is in the wrestle, so no doubt they’ve been working on that,” Brigginshaw told reporters on Thursday.
“We’ve adjusted to that. We can be so much better in that space about getting up and playing the ball, but I expect them to still be working on that.
“(The men) play week in, week out and it takes a lot of fitness to be able … to do all that … the more footy we play, the better we get at the wrestle.”
Maroons’ coach Tahnee Norris implored her side to keep their composure and not look to the referee for help should wrestling persist, as they found last year.
“Especially in the first half, there was a lot of frustration around the stuff that was going on the ground,” Norris told reporters.
“We’ve just got to be smarter about … we can’t do anything about the refereeing or can’t do anything about what they’re doing on top of us.
“But we’ve just got to work ourselves out and get ourselves out of the tackle as fast as you can.”
Queensland have two debutants in Emily Bass and Evania Pelite, but Norris said slotting them into the side had been seamless.
The Blues have four debutants including two spine members – fullback Emma Tonegato and halfback Rachael Pearson.
“They’ve all combined really well and really fast, they’re all professional athletes these girls now so it doesn’t take long for it to all come together,” NSW coach Kylie Hilder said.
“It’s right across the park, we’ve got a great forward pack, great outside backs.
“If everyone just does the job, and that’s a big thing we’ve been really emphasising all week … then we’ll come together as a team.”
NSW captain Kezie Apps, who leads a star-studded forward back including Millie Boyle, Simaima Taufa and Hannah Southwell, said her unit would be pivotal in regaining the shield for the first time since 2019.
“Every game is won in the middle, we all know that,” she said. “It’s definitely going to be a big physical battle, and hopefully we can take opportunities off the back of that.”